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August 16, 2009

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Karen, the Public Access Service is a mixed bag alright. I assume that it was included in the settlement as a way of trying to make Google and the plaintiffs look like they had the public's interest in mind, but of course it is structured in such a way that no library may actually use it. It reminds me a bit of Section 1201(d) in the DMCA, which allows a library to hack into a commercial system in order to decide if it wants to subscribe to that system. No librarian was ever asked whether this was something we wanted. Similarly, the settlement would have been tons better if librarians had been active participants in the negotiation.

Having said that, I do need to come to Google's defense a little bit. They are offering to libraries something that they don't have now - namely free access to the full text of possibly 10 million books. Maybe this is a gift horse we should look in the mouth, but I can't fault them for wanting to give us a gift.

And to answer some of your questions, public libraries can purchase an institutional subscription (and up to two public libraries can be part of the institutional subscription beta testing). Since not having to pay for printing is part of an institutional subscription, then the public library could avoid the printing fees by subscribing instead of using the free Public Access Service.

The one limitation on the Institutional Subscription for public libraries is that there is no remote access included except with the Registry's approval: see Section 4.1(a)(iv) of the Settlement agreement. Since this is in the pricing section on the institutional subscription and since remote access can be offered with the Registry's approval, my guess would be that the Registry has no idea at this time of how to price remote access in public libraries when, sometimes, patrons can be anyone in an entire state (or maybe country). I would assume that this will be a feature in the future.

Excellent topic. Librarians, this is all the more reason to be diligent about retaining and preserving our hard-copy holdings.

The bottom line is: for-profit enterprises exist to make a profit. If they don't make money, they go out of business. When we "partner" with for-profit enterprises, by default we WILL pay, one way or another.

Just to point out that in general public libraries are disadvantaged in the Google settlement. Yes, they get one "free" terminal per building. (Imagine managing that in a large main library!) Unlike educational institutions (who must pay for access) public libraries cannot provide remote access to their Google Books service. This means that users must go into the library building to use a resource that resides on a global, ubiquitous network. It is not clear in the wording of the settlement if 1) public libraries can purchase additional access; 2) if they do purchase such service whether it will be under the same rules as the education license, e.g. whether they will be allowed to provide remote access; and 3) if they would have to continue to pay printing royalties on any additional "seats" they purchase.

The upshot is that the public normally served by public libraries for access to hard copy and electronic resources is being singled out for a lower level of service. I have been told that this reflects the AAPs general feeling that public libraries are a threat to the publishing business.

John, you raise a good point that there might be workable solutions that could protect patron privacy. Two concerns, however. First, this is one more imposition on the public libraries that want to use this supposedly "beneficial" perk included in the settlement. In addition to freeing up a computer to access Google, now you have to provide a dedicated printer as well. Second, the Settlement says that Google must design the Public Access Service to allow printing and that Google will collect the printing fees. Google could design the system to ignore the library's existing reproduction fee mechanisms and instead have a second method (such as credit cards or PayPal) for the royalty fees.

Most of all, though, I am worried about the precedent this sets for other library reproductions. I realize that the Public Access Service is different in that the library does not own the material to start with. If this is a fee that is due because the Public Access Service user now has access to a title that was not in their library before, then the printing fee should be going to the library that holds that title (much as you sometimes have to pay to get an ILL copy). If the fee is going to the Registry because of copyright, then I think it sets a very dangerous precedent for libraries.

The precedent for other services may be worrisome, but for any library using a dedicated terminal for the public access service (which, if its popularity is as predicted, would be useful), there seems to me a simple solution to the privacy problem: make that dedicated terminal use a dedicated printer, with a different per-page charge from the other printers.

(So, if most black and white printers in the library cost 10 cents per page, and the royalty as set by the BRR is 5 cents per page, the terminal's printer will be priced at 15 cents per page.)

Many libraries are already set up for differential printing costs (some, for instance, have color printers that cost more than B&W printers). This would seem to fall into the same category. Neither Google nor the library would need to know who printed what; just that so many pages were printed from that termimal.

Thank you for bringing this up as it is not something our library is even aware of. I am not even sure the Google Books situation is even being discussed much on the state level. How can we when we are so busy trying to survive budget cuts?

In any event, there are existing services for which this is already a problem. Consider Netlibrary, Overdrive, and soon Amazon Kindle style services. In some ways these kinds of services nullify the privacy protections of the Patriot Act. In others, it balloons the cost requirements to run a library. In others, it exploits the concept of copyright and public domain and morphs it into a contractual license agreement that few patrons will read. I am rather frustrated with the power grab and control over information that is being forced on libraries. Libraries exist as a repository of knowledge which is supposed to be freely available to the people. I think we are quickly losing a national treasure.

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