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Plot thickens in Librarians vs. Google

You might recall Google's book-searching agreement with publishers and authors, Google Book Search, which would give it control of digitizing virtually all copyrighted books in America. The deal must still get federal court approval. But now, many librarians and other critics are increasingly against it.

Janet Morrissey covers the latest developments in Time, citing opposition to the deal's unfair revenue model. Under the terms, Google would have an exclusive license to publish and profit from orphan books (books that are out-of-print, and whose authors and publishers are unknown). Critics say this would create a sort of digital library monopoly, and give Google the ability to charge exorbitant fees to academic libraries and others who want full access to its library.

I think in our haste to further knowledge and information discovery -- a virtuous goal indeed -- we should not be blind to what could be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Google is by no means an evil empire, and I personally rely on it daily. But it is a business like any other that must make its numbers and keep its board and shareholders happy.

As the "Librarians vs. Google" scenario plays out, we see that things can get sticky when it comes to mixing content and control. Having content that's digitized and accessible will be a huge step for the facilitation of knowledge. However, not if those materials are so costly and controlled that only a minority will benefit.

In short, it would be naive to think we shouldn’t move ahead with the digitization of books and other materials. It would be like swimming against a riptide. It’s going to happen. But we better be pretty darn clear about pricing, availability, and accessibility of information now and in the future.

As Janet writes in her Time article, "Opposition to the deal has been escalating, with librarians, academics, consumer advocates and even a few authors urging the federal court to either scuttle the deal or at least amend it." Let’s be thankful we live in a democracy, and let's continue to make our voices heard.

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