A federal judge has ruled that Google’s ambitious attempt to digitize all books, including those for which the copyright holders cannot be found, cannot go forward as planned. That’s great news. It will prevent Google from claiming a de facto monopoly over millions of “orphan works” whose copyright holders cannot be found. The company will not be able to charge exorbitant prices for access to books that ought to be free or at-cost.
Even better, the rejection of Google’s plan means that the nation’s libraries and research institutions can now entertain the idea of building their own repository of digitized books. It can be a real commons, and not a “free” proprietary platform that would come with all sorts of strings attached.
Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, makes these points in a terrific oped piece in the NYT today. After detailing why Google’s book project deserved to be rejected, Darnton asks: Why not build a digital library better than Google’s? Let’s build “a vast collection of resources that can be tapped, free of charge, by anyone, anywhere, at any time,” he writes.