Mea Culpa

In my recent The Elephantine Google Book Settlement, I wrote:

In 2004, Google announced partnerships with major academic libraries to digitize the books in their collections. … At first, the project included only books in the public domain, but it soon expanded to include books under copyright as well.

I have said similar things on many occasions. They reflected my understanding of the Google Books program. Unfortunately, it appears my understanding was wrong. The initial announcement of the program included both public-domain and copyrighted books from the start:

Clicking on a title delivers a Google Print page where users can browse the full text of public domain works and brief excerpts and/or bibliographic data of copyrighted material. Library content will be displayed in keeping with copyright law.

I am not entirely sure where this misconception came from. One possibility is that I misread Google’s timeline of the project. Its partnership with Oxford, which is listed first, was indeed public-domain only. But that partnership wasn’t announced until a few days after the overall project was, and, almost simultaneously, the University of Michigan announced that it would provide books in copyright.

I apologize for the mistake, and particularly for repeating it for so long.

When NYPL joined as an initial partner, we provided works only in the public domain, too.

I assume that you never read Google’s contract with the University of Michigan, which I posted in June 2005 after obtaining a copy under Michigan’s FOIA law. Google’s scanning contracts with other libraries were similar, but they were all confidential at the time. UMich is a public institution, and is subject to state law.

Here is an old news item about this, and the contract is still posted here.

Incidentally, the contract may still be relevant, as it shows that Google has indemnified the University against any future claims regarding copyright laws. This would mean, I presume, that the current HathiTrust case is covered by this indemnification. While the Authors Guild isn’t seeking damages, I suspect that HathiTrust’s legal fees will be paid by Google.