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Harvard has refused to join Google's in-copyright book-scanning project despite a recent agreement to settle copyright-infringement lawsuits from book publishers and authors, saying the deal has too many potential limitations on electronic access to works.
The Ivy League school, however, could change its position if the settlement, which has to be approved by the U.S. District Court in New York, is modified to have more "reasonable terms," a university spokesman told the school newspaper The Harvard Crimson.
The $125 million deal announced Tuesday would end a class-action lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and book authors and a separate suit brought by five major publishers: McGraw-Hill, Pearson PLC's Pearson Education and Penguin Group, John Wiley & Sons, and Simon & Schuster, owned by CBS. Both suits filed in 2005 challenged the legality of Google scanning copyrighted library books and publishing snippets in search results without permission of copyright holders.
The settlement would clear the way for Google to digitize millions of in-copyright books and other library materials. A portion of the money from the deal would be used to establish a Book Rights Registry in which copyright holders could register their works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, and ad revenue. The remainder of the settlement would pay for works already digitized, resolve existing claims by authors and publishers, and cover legal fees.
In a letter to Harvard library staff, director Robert C. Darnton said the ramifications of the settlement were too unclear for Harvard to commit to participating in the Google project. "As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher-education community and by patrons of public libraries," he wrote, the Crimson reported Friday.
Darnton said the agreement had no assurances that prices charged for accessing electronic copies of books would be reasonable, particularly since there would be no real competition. In addition, "the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain," he said.
Harvard has allowed Google to scan noncopyrighted works from the university library. The universities of California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford have agreed to open up their in-copyright collections to Google.