Google and Harvard split on Book Search agreement

The recent agreement between Google and various litigants has caused Harvard to walk away from its longstanding partnership on Google Book Search -- at least where copyrighted works are concerned.

The two will continue to work on scanning books that have entered the public domain. No books already scanned by the project will be affected. Harvard's been on board the search project since its pilot days in late 2004.

After reading the $125 million agreement, Harvard concluded that the arrangement simply wasn't reasonable (yes, those were Harvard's words), lacking protections against outrageous author fees and disallowing the sort of access to materials to which the project has been historically committed.

In a statement released to the Harvard Crimson, University library director Robert C. Darnton said that "the settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable, especially since the subscription services will have no real competitors [and] the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain."

Harvard's not the only organization that has cast a gimlet eye on the agreement. In a reader's guide to the decision, Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation described the terms as "plainly second-best from the point of view of those who believe Google would have won the fair use question at the heart of the case." Still, he shrugged, simply having the matter settled helps Google get on with the project.

The agreement between Google and the litigants, led by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, still requires ratification by a district court in New York.

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