GBS: No Exclusivity in the Scans?

Barbara Casassus, Google will not enforce exclusivity over library scanning, The Bookseller, Dec. 20, 2010:

In a major policy about-turn, Google has said it will not enforce exclusivity clauses in contracts to scan and index library book collection, according to an opinion about online advertising released last week by the French competition watchdog.

Partners of Google Book Search may sign agreements authorising other search engines to access automatically digital copies of books for indexing and search purposes, the Competition Authority quoted Google as saying in a letter last July 19 to Anthony Whelan, head of cabinet of European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.

Note that this is simply a statement that Google will not seek to exercise any contractual restrictions over the uses of digital scans it has provided its partners (at least for indexing and search). It doesn’t remove any copyright restrictions on the use of the work.

The actual opinion of the French Competition Authority is available online (in French). The relevant passage is at page 56 of the PDF:

Réponse du 5 octobre 2010 donnée par Google: Les bibliothèques partenaires de Google Book Search doivent limiter l’accès automatisé aux copies numériques créées par Google. Les partenaires de Google Book Search peuvent cependant signer des contrats avec n’importe quel autre moteur de recherche, autorisant le moteur en question à accéder automatiquement aux copies numériques des livres pour les indexer et y effectuer des recherches. Google a officiellement confirmé sa position dans une lettre, datée du 19 juillet 2010, à M. Anthony Whelan, chef de cabinet de la Commissaire à l’Agenda numérique (Neelie Kroes).

But does Google just saying this have any real legal effect on existing contracts with libraries unless the contracts themselves are modified? And is there any indication that the latter has happened?

But length of time was a problem with the 25-year pact signed in 2008 for Google to scan 500,000 out-of-copyright titles for the Lyons Municipal Library. This “appears very exaggerated” in view of the rapid pace of change in the sector, and the field of the exclusivity “does not appear proportionate,” the authority said.
And yet, the authorities have no problem with the exclusivity of copyright lasting over a hundred years (on the average), as opposed to trying to shorten it. Bizarre.

Frances Grimble: If Google’s declaration can be considered a covenant, then it has legal status (and there would be no need to amend the original contracts). I have no idea what is required for that to come into effect, however. (Patent holders sometimes issue a “covenant not to sue” in order to enable wider adoption of their patented technology.)