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Google Gives Ground On Book Scan Agreement

The company is trying to appease critics with provisions to strengthen library-preservation efforts and improve public access to books.

With a ruling expected soon on the acceptability of Google's book-scanning settlement with authors and publishers, Google is trying to address some of the concerns of critics.

The University of Michigan said on Wednesday that it had amended its agreement with Google that covers the digitization of millions of the university's books and journals.

The changes, according to the university, strengthen library-preservation efforts and improve public access to books. The agreement includes the requirement that Google offer free previews of digitized texts through a public-access terminal and the ability to pay for access to the university's scanned texts at other institutions.

It also says that Google must contribute millions of dollars to fund two new research centers where scholars can access digitized works.

In addition to disability provisions, the amended agreement allows the organizations that provide Google with books to review, and if necessary challenge through arbitration, prices charged to institutions for subscriptions to scanned collections.

Dan Clancy, engineering director at Google, in a statement defended the book settlement as a way to expand the availability of information. "Our agreement with authors and publishers will allow anyone in the U.S. to benefit from the wealth of knowledge contained in our nation's most renowned libraries," he said.

While readers and researchers may well benefit from having access to the world's books online, Brewster Kahle, founder and director of the Internet Archive and the Open Content Alliance, argues that the settlement would effectively privatize America's libraries and grant Google a monopoly.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post last week, he said that the settlement gives Google an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to "orphaned works," books that are covered by copyright but for which there's no identifiable owner. Some 50% to 70% of books published after 1923 fall into this category, he claims.

The Department of Justice is looking into these and related complaints about the pending settlement.

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