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The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of MichiganThe Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

Paul N. Courant speaks to The Economist about possible settlement in Google Books suit

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Economist interviewed Paul N. Courant in a recent podcast about issues surrounding a proposed settlement in an ongoing lawsuit against Google by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

Google's scanning and online publishing of collections of books, including parts of important university libraries, has drawn criticism and controversy, especially when the books in question fall into legal gray areas such as that created by "orphan works" - books hose copyright holders are difficult to locate - which make up a substantial portion of the collections scanned. A lawsuit brought against it several years ago by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers reached a settlement last fall, and a ruling is expected next month. The settlement states that the books digitized from academic libraries will be made commercially available and that Google will produce a product that allows parties at all universities whose libraries have been digitized, including the University of Michigan, to view the entire digitized. Defenders of the proposal say that it represents an exciting step forward in intercollegiate information sharing; opponents say that Google is simply aiming for an opportunity to control prices on digital books.

Courant insists that it is in Google's best interests to keep this information low-cost, and that the overall economic value of the collections digitized is not extremely high. "It doesn't seem to me like this is a pot of gold," he told The Economist. "It's a resource that is of great value because we can look at the huge set of academic works, and works held by academic libraries, and find what's in them, but it's extremely unlikely that any of these orphaned works are about to become bestsellers.