An Entertaining Snippet of Google Books History

OK, so this will mostly be entertaining to people who have been following the Google/AAP/AG legal battle from the beginning. Which includes me, of course. But anyway. While going back over the reporting on the project from the very early days, I found this gem in a December 2004 writeup by Barbara Quint:

Although some library participants apparently were worried that publishers might object to the program on the grounds of copyright violation, Patricia Schroeder, executive director of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), assured me that they have no immediate plans to try to deter the program, such as through legal action.

Some library participants in the program (e.g., NYPL) have clearly sought to avoid any copyright problems by limiting access to public domain. Others are moving carefully, as if through a legal minefield. However, my conversation with Schroeder of the AAP may serve to reassure Google and its library partners. Schroeder indicated that publishers were relatively comfortable with the prospect of Google’s entry into their world. She admitted that publishers reissuing public domain works in print might take a hit, but she then pointed to the advantage to publishers, particularly small ones, of having their backlists digitized and promoted for free. (Google has apparently been talking with AAP publisher members.)

When I asked Schroeder whether lawsuits to stop the project were under consideration, she assured me they were not. According to Schroeder: ‘At the moment, there are no alarm bells ringing from members. Many are consulting with Google. Of course, if the bells do start ringing, we will be out [of] there like a 12-alarm fire, but for now Google is working with publishers to create a whole new way to deliver content. We are ever vigilant, but unless the system crashes or we see large-scale piracy or leakage or changes in Google’s business models, our people are being cooperative.’

This kind of made my eyes bug out when I saw it. After all, Pat Schroeder is the same person who, just 11 months after Quint’s article appeared, coauthored a piece in the Washington Times that averred, among other things:

Not only is Google trying to rewrite copyright law, it is also crushing creativity. If publishers and authors have to spend all their time policing Google for works they have already written, it is hard to create more. Our laws say if you wish to copy someone’s work, you must get their permission. Google wants to trash that.

Google’s position essentially amounts to a license to steal, so long as it returns the loot upon a formal request by their victims. This is precisely why Google’s argument has no basis in U.S. intellectual property law or jurisprudence. Just because Google is huge, it should not be allowed to change the law.

And of course, as anyone with the dimmest interest in the project must know by now, Schroeder’s organization, the AAP, did indeed sue (just before the Washington Times article appeared), and that lawsuit was only settled in 2012, after years of tortuous settlement negotiations and other legal wrangling. The parallel suit by the Author’s Guild, as well as a suit by the AG against HathiTrust, remains outstanding.

So, anyway: finding a piece that says that at some point in time, the AAP had no intention of suing, and Pat Schroeder actually seemed somewhat enthusiastic about Google Books? Kind of golden, in light of all that’s happened since.


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