The settlement should be scuttled
In the original agreement between the University of Michigan and Google, which was confidential and was acquired in mid-2005 only by using a Michigan freedom of information law, Google indemnifies the University against any and all legal threats. At that time the major concern was whether the University might be sued under the "fair use" provisions of U.S. copyright law for allowing Google to copy its books. That guarantee from Google got Google's huge foot into Michigan's door, and the scanning commenced.
As it turned out, no participating universities were named as defendants by the authors and publishers, and the settlement itself avoids any mention of "fair use." Nevertheless, many feel that the "fair use" language in U.S. copyright law remains a key issue. The settlement, announced last October, included Google's agreement to pay for plaintiff's attorney's fees up to $30 million, subject to court approval. That helps explain why the plaintiff's attorneys are happy with it.
But we still don't know why a handful of authors, publishers, universities, and Google are calling all the shots, and it doesn't explain why the the concept of "reader privacy" is not mentioned anywhere in the settlement, or in the extended agreement with the University of Michigan announced this week. We do learn that Google is giving the University of Michigan a free ride on subscription fees for 25 years. Is it possible that Google's money is more powerful than a public university's interest in the public good?
"We are always concerned about protecting our users' privacy and privacy in general, but we have no particular concern with Google or other search engines in a networked world," said James Hilton, University of Michigan librarian, in June 2005. Does this mean that the University of Michigan plans to stuff Google's cookies down the throats of students and faculty for the next 25 years? We still have no idea how that's going to work. That's one of the reasons why the proposed settlement should be rejected by the judge.