The Pennsylvania State University

This letter appeared in the Real Time column of the October 24th, 2005 issue of the Wall Street Journal

Tony Sanfilippo, marketing and sales director for Penn State University

We in the non-profit scholarly publishing sector have a lot at stake.

Google is claiming that the Google Print Libraries Project is one of the largest leaps forward for human knowledge ever attempted, and quite arguably it is. There is something very admirable about organizing the ideas of humankind to make them more accessible to everyone. But because they are doing it outside of the scope of traditional copyright protection, others argue that while it may serve an enormous public good, it is in fact the wrong way to go about it. Is any public good so great, so beneficial that it needn't concern it self with the ethical, legal, or economic ramifications of its process?

I work at a non-profit university press. Four of the five libraries in the Google Print Libraries Project are university libraries. Much if not all of what we have published in our 50-year history is in those libraries that Google is proposing to scan. In fact, that's probably true of almost every American university press. While we share a mission with Google and the libraries involved -- namely the dissemination of human knowledge -- we are very concerned that what they are doing with our collective past may irrevocably hurt the production of knowledge in the future.

It's my belief that Google is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Google is making at least two digital copies of our books, using one to index and giving one to the library. Those copies are payment by Google to those libraries for access to the books. Google is claiming that their use of this content falls within the guidelines of fair use because they won't show users the whole book. While displaying only a snippet of content may qualify as fair use, using an unauthorized full copy as a payment is clearly a copyright infringement.

My primary objection is that we will lose the opportunity to sell those digital files of our content ourselves. These libraries are among our best customers. Each of the libraries in question probably has 70% to 90% of what we've published over the past 50 years. The files of just our content that Google is giving each library are conservatively worth tens of thousands of dollars, if we had been allowed to sell them those files. The libraries involved have all bought or subscribed to our digital content in the past. Now they won't need to anymore. That loss of income means many new books won't get published. That means scholarship and the advancement of knowledge may suffer more than any advantage gained by the indices Google creates.

Without university presses, a lot of scholarship wouldn't get vetted, edited and designed. Do we want to chuck the whole commercial model for the production of scholarship? Perhaps we should. But as long as there is a perceived value in measuring scholarship in the marketplace, and until university administrators decide we should chuck it, we're dependent on that model and we must abide by the rules that environment imposes. Our non-profit university press, like most, has a clear mandate from our administration: be sustainable. If we make less money, we publish fewer books.

Google claims we have been given the "opportunity" of opting out by submitting a form listing what we'd like to exclude from the project. Since when do we request the potential victim of a crime to fill out a form to opt out of that crime? The compilation of that list in and of itself would take a lot of resources. We've been publishing for 50 years, Penn has been publishing for over 100 years, Johns Hopkins University Press has been publishing for over 125 years. The amount of scholarship involved is enormous, involving hundreds of thousands of books just from university presses. Why should it be the responsibility of the university-press community to do that work? As a not-for-profit, we simply can't afford it. Those resources should be spent creating new scholarly content, not fending off the theft of our previously published content.

When we want to use someone else's work in one of our publications, we ask for permission and sometimes pay for it. Google should do the same. The onus is on Google, not us. While what Google is proposing is an admirable goal, they need to do it on their own dime, not by illegally exploiting the work of others.


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