Google's book search service was was praised yesterday by five different companies, including Sony and the National Federation of the Blind, for making hard-to-find books accessible to a much larger group of readers, and not be lost to the ages.
A variety of other criticisms were also raised: Thomas Rubin, a Microsoft intellectual property strategy attorney, said the settlement gives Google an unfair advantage within the search industry, as it hands the company rights to digitise up to 147 million out-of-print books for its own search results, while other search companies would still need to procure the reproduction rights on a case-by-case basis.
Representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) all voiced concerns at how Google could track what books people read, right down to the particular page numbers.
US libraries have been fierce protectors of people's privacy in terms of not divulging what books their patrons check out, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Because Google is a commercial enterprise that makes money by profiling users for advertising, readers could not expect the same level of anonymity, he said.
While the CDT and EFF offered a number of suggestions of how Google could put privacy controls into place that alleviate these concerns - such as limiting the time Google would hold onto the tracking data - Rotenberg maintained that the conflict-of-interest would just be too great to mitigate.
Not all companies were opposed to the settlement.
Janet Cullum, representing Sony, said that the proposed registry would open a wider array of material for the electronic book market, being as how the registry will allow companies other than Google to track down authors and make their own arrangements.
Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind argued that the settlement would be "good news for the blind", insofar that it could make a vast number of previously unavailable texts accessible, through the use of assistive technologies. This is a market now only served partially by the commercial market, he said.
Paul Courant, a librarian for the University of Michigan, noted that the digitisation process could preserve countless academic and historic texts that are in fragile states and only available in a few libraries.
Cavanaugh and others agreed that digitizing such books would be a good thing, though ultimately it would be up to Congress to amend copyright laws to make provisions for preemptive projects such as Google's, rather than it being handled in a class action lawsuit settlement.
"You cannot use procedural rules to modify rights," he said.