Out of the minor storm of paper filed last week, there are really only two documents that are a pleasure to read. Paul Aiken’s declaration is the only one of the numerous declarations to read as though it was written by the person whose name it bears. (Dan Clancy is charismatic and funny in person, but his declaration is dry as dust; the real Dan Clancy would never put quotation marks around “optical character recognition.”) His animating convictions, enthusiasm for the settlement, and occasional frustration are all evident. It’s surprisingly, and refreshingly, human.
Google’s brief is also a great piece of rhetoric. There are parts that make good sense, and parts that don’t hold up so well once you check what the cited cases actually say, but the whole thing is written with verve, and then some. I regularly lost track of where the plaintiff’s supplemental brief was going with a section and had to flip back to trace the argument; not so with the Google brief. The introduction is a model of how to write an effective summary of a legal argument, and as for the conclusion, I might as well just reproduce it in full (I’ve turned the footnotes into hyperlinks.):
In 47 B.C., Julius Caesar set fire to the ships in the harbor at Alexandria. The fire spread ashore, destroying the more than 700,000 volumes in the Library of Alexandria.
In 1952, Edward Alexander Parsons published the definitive work on the Library of Alexandria, titled The Alexandrian Library, Glory of the Hellenic World: Its Rise, Antiquities, and Destructions. That book has been out of print since the mid-1960s.
Today, Plutarch’s account of the destruction of the Library at Alexandria can be read by any internet user through Google Book Search, either in English or in the original Greek. But Parsons’ book cannot; his work is not available for sale, and those who wish to read it must travel to a major research library. At issue in this case is whether out-of-print books like The Alexandrian Library will be made accessible to readers and profitable to their authors, or whether they will be effectively lost forever.
The ASA cannot claim to create a Library of Alexandria, and no settlement can bring back the works lost to Caesar’s fire. But it is hoped that this compromise between authors, publishers, libraries, and a company willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to digitize so much of the printed history of humanity will be another small step toward the vision that the Alexandrian Library represents.
The ASA is fair, reasonable, and adequate. The Court should grant the motion for final settlement approval.
There’s an irony here. Plutarch reports, “[Caesar] was forced to divert that danger by setting fire to his own ships, which, after burning the docks, thence spread on and destroyed the great library.” But this is controversial; other ancient writers’ accounts suggest that the library may have been only partially damaged by Caesar, or not affected at all, and destroyed only later. I checked Lionel Casson’s Libraries in the Ancient World, Johnson and Harris’s History of Libraries in the Western World (inter-library loan gave me the 1976 third edition), and Wikipedia, none of which present Plutarch’s version as fact.
The Alexandrian Library is in agreement, as one can tell from this excerpt posted online, which catalogues the various conflicting ancient authorities. So the “definitive work” on the Library of Alexandria (according to Google) disputes a proposition the brief presents as settled historical fact. Depending on your perspective, this either undermines or underlines Google’s point.