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book-stackThe New York Times just published an op-ed piece from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, in which Brin defends the settlement between his company and a group of authors and publishers over Google’s right to scan books and publish excerpts on its Book Search site. That deal hasn’t fared well, with the Justice Department asking courts to reject it, and with what The Times earlier described as an “army” of opponents trying to block it.

Brin addresses three big criticisms about the settlement, which he calls myths:

  1. That the deal is compulsory for authors and publishers, because they can’t opt out of the deal after a certain date. Brin: “The reality is that rights holders can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether.”
  2. That the deal limits competition or consumer choice. Brin: “The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns. Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.”
  3. That there are a number of specific problems with the Google Books product and future plans. Brin: “These are all valid questions, and being a company that obsesses over the quality of our products, we are working hard to address them — improving bibliographic information and categorization, and further detailing our privacy policy.”

And now the Open Book Alliance, the major group opposing the deal (which includes Amazon, the Internet Archive, Microsoft, and many others), has posted its response:

What we can take from Brin’s column today, and other statements by Google and its partners, is that they have no intention of addressing or correcting any of the fundamental flaws found in their initial settlement agreement. Which lends credence to the belief that Google isn’t in this for the public good, but rather for its own private interests.

While there’s more to the Alliance’s argument, I am curious whether this specific criticism actually works. Are there really many people who are shocked, shocked, that Google wants to make money?


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