Open Book Alliance Calls for Public Guardian to Preserve Nation's Literary Heritage

Jan 19, 2010, 10:05 ET from Open Book Alliance

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Open Book Alliance has been steadfast in its belief that the digitization of books is a seismic change that will help reduce the literary divide in our nation and our world, and open up new ways to more efficiently and thoroughly conduct research.

However, it is critical that the commercialization of books does not trump the benefits of their digitization.  The current Google Book Settlement does just that.

While much debate over the past nine months has focused on the flaws of the Google Books Settlement, it is time that new solutions are proposed.  Amending a flawed settlement is not an answer.  As a result, the Open Book Alliance has drafted the key parameters of a proposed solution and today sent it to leaders in the U.S. Congress and a broad audience of digital book advocates and stakeholders.

The letter clearly outlines the way to fully maximize the potential of the mass digitization of books:

JANUARY 19, 2010

United States Congress

Washington, DC

Dear Member of Congress,

The Open Book Alliance and its partners - representing authors, librarians and academics - all believe in the power of digitizing books.

A comprehensive digital public library will unlock our collective cultural knowledge for a larger audience than ever before possible and ensure that no important works are lost to the dustbin of history.  Perhaps most important, it will help to bridge an information divide, enabling growing global access to an international archive of printed works.

The current Google Book Settlement process has failed to deliver on this promise.  Fortunately, the resulting debate has been useful in stimulating discussion about the utility of a comprehensive digital public library and now a new, more inclusive process is evolving.

Ultimately, making the promise of book digitization a reality will follow these principles:

  • Large scale book digitization efforts must recognize their public utility and foster competitive instead of exclusive markets.
  • Long-term benefits for consumers must be prioritized and promoted over isolated commercial interests.
  • It must be done in a way that respects authors' rights and copyright.
  • The conception of this promise must be developed in the open and grounded in sound public policy instead of through a private settlement that bypasses the responsibilities of our elected officials.

The Open Book Alliance and our partners believe a successful digital public library must employ the following tenets:

  • Open Process: Only an open and deliberative conversation in Congress will appropriately weigh the concerns of all stakeholders and create bright-line laws that apply equally to all consumers, companies and stakeholders.  
  • Public Guardian: To ensure the widest participation by content holders and greatest public benefit, the digital book database should be entrusted to a neutral, civic, not-for-profit organization. Respected librarians, like Harvard's Robert Darnton, have suggested a public guardian that is a not for profit or public sector library, such as the Library of Congress.  In a similar vein, the governments of France and the Netherlands have entrusted public institutions with the administration of digital libraries.
  • Public Interest: Any successful digitization effort must not be exclusive to a single for-profit company as a result of legal arrangements delivering unfair monopoly.  It also must uphold the rights of authors and copyright.

The OBA calls on Google to halt its current strategy, which focuses on fattening its profits and ensuring its continued domination of the Internet search market at the expense of broader social responsibilities.  

Instead, Google, and the parties to the proposed settlement, must instead commit to joining this new inclusive process and engage the broad audience of advocates that share a passion for the digitization of books, promoting open competition and access to digital books for the widest number of people.

Thank you for considering our views on the matter.  We look forward to working with you in the future to deliver on the promise of a digital public library.


Peter Brantley


Open Book Alliance

About The Open Book Alliance

The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance works to advance and protect this promise. And, by protecting it, the Open Book Alliance asserts that any mass book digitization and publishing effort be open and competitive.  The process of achieving this promise must be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy and mindful of the need to promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than isolated commercial interests.

The Open Book Alliance counters Google, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild's scheme to monopolize the access, distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world.  To this end, the Open Book Alliance promotes fair and flexible solutions aimed at achieving a more robust and open system.

SOURCE Open Book Alliance