google, digitization and archives: despatches from if:book 06.16.2008, 3:35 PM
posted by sebastian mary
In discussing with other Institute folks how to go about reviewing four year's worth of blog posts, I've felt torn at times. Should I cherry-pick 'thinky' posts that discuss a particular topic in depth, or draw out narratives from strings of posts each of which is not, in itself, a literary gem but which cumulatively form the bedrock of the blog? But I thought about it, and realised that you can't really have one without the other.
Fair use, digitization, public domain, archiving, the role of libraries and cultural heritage are intricately interconnected. But the name that connects all these issues over the last few years has been Google. The Institute has covered Google's incursions into digitization of libraries (amongst other things) in a way that has explored many of these issues - and raised questions that are as urgent as ever. Is it okay to privatize vast swathes of our common cultural heritage? What are the privacy issues around technology that tracks online reading? Where now for copyright, fair use and scholarly research?
In-depth coverage of Google and digitization has helped to draw out many of the issues central to this blog. Thus, in drawing forth the narrative of if:book's Google coverage is, by extension, to watch a political and cultural stance emerging. So in this post I've tried to have my cake and eat it - to trace a story, and to give a sense of the depth of thought going into that story's discussion.
In order to keep things manageable, I've kept this post to a largely Google-centric focus. Further reviews covering copyright-related posts, and general discussion of libraries and technology will follow.
2004-5: Google rampages through libraries, annoys Europe, gains rivals
In December 2004, if:book's first post about Google's digitization of libraries gave the numbers for the University of Michigan project.
In February 2005, the head of France's national libraries raised a battle cry against the Anglo-centricity implicit in Google's plans to digitize libraries. The company's seemingly relentless advance brought Europe out in force to find ways of forming non-Google coalitions for digitization.
In August, Google halted book scans for a few months to appease publishers angry at encroachments on their copyright. But this was clearly not enough, as in October 2005, Google was sued (again) by a string of publishers for massive copyright infringement. However, undeterred either by European hostility or legal challenges, the same month the company made moves to expand Google Print into Europe. Also in October 2005, Yahoo! launched the Open Content Alliance, which was joined by Microsoft around the same time. Later the same month, a Wired article put the case for authors in favor of Google's searchable online archive.
In November 2005 Google announced that from here on in Google Print would be known as Google Book Search, as the 'Print' reference perhaps struck too close to home for publishers. The same month, Ben savaged Google Print's 'public domain' efforts - then recanted (a little) later that month.
In December 2005 Google's digitization was still hot news - the Institute did a radio show/podcast with Open Source on the topic, and covered the Google Book Search debate at the American Bar Association. (In fact, most of that month's posts are dedicated to Google and digitization and are too numerous to do justice to here).
2006: Digitization spreads
By 2006, digitization and digital archives - with attendant debates - are spreading. From January through March, three posts - 'The book is reading you' parts 1, 2 and 3 looked at privacy, networked books, fair use, downloading and copyright around Google Book Search. Also in March, a further post discussed Google and Amazon's incursions into publishing.
In April, the Smithsonian cut a deal with Showtime making the media company a preferential media partner for documentaries using Smithsonian resources. Jesse analyzed the implications for open research.
In June, the Library of Congress and partners launched a project to make vintage newspapers available online. Google Book Search, meanwhile, was tweaked to reassure publishers that the new dedicated search page was not, in fact, a library. The same month, Ben responded thoughtfully in June 2006 to a French book attacking Google, and by extension America, for cultural imperialism. The debate continued with a follow-up post in July.
In August, Google announceddownloadable PDF versions of many of its public-domain books. Then, in August, the publication of Google's contract with UCAL's library prompted some debate the same month. In October we reported on Microsoft's growing book digitization list, and some criticism of the same from Brewster Kahle. The same month, we reported that the Dutch government is pouring millions into a vast public digitization program.
In December, Microsoft launched its (clunkier) version of Google Books, Microsoft Live Book Search.
2007: Google is the environment
In January, former Netscape player Rich Skrenta crowned Google king of the 'third age of computing': 'Google is the environment', he declared. Meanwhile, having seemingly forgotten 2005's tussles, the company hosted a publishing conference at the New York Public Library. In February the company signed another digitization deal, this time with Princeton; in August, this institution was joined by Cornell, and the Economist compared Google's databases to the banking system of the information age. The following month, Siva's first Monday podcast discussed the Googlization of libraries.
By now, while Google remains a theme, commercial digitization of public-domain archives is a far broader issue. In January, the US National Archives cut a digitization deal with Footnote, effectively paywalling digital access to a slew of public-domain documents; in August, a deal followd with Amazon for commercial distribution of its film archive. The same month, two major audiovisual archiving projects launched.
In May, Ben speculated about whether some 'People's Card Catalog' could be devised to rival Google's gated archive. The Open Archive launched in July, to mixed reviews - the same month that the ongoing back-and-forth between the Institute and academic Siva Vaidyanathan bore fruit. Siva's networked writing project, The Googlization Of Everything, was announced (this would be launched in September). Then, in August, we covered an excellent piece by Paul Duguid discussing the shortcomings of Google's digitization efforts.
In October, several major American libraries refused digitization deals with Google. By November, Google and digitization had found its way into the New Yorker; the same month the Library of Congress put out a call for e-literature links to be archived.
2008: All quiet?
But if Google coverage has been slighter this year, that's not to suggest a happy ending to the story. Microsoft abandoned its book scanning project in mid-May of this year, raising questions about the viability of the Open Content Alliance. It would seem as though Skrenta was right. The Googlization of Everything continues, less challenged than ever.
Martin on June 16, 2008 9:51 PM:
Re: "In April, the Smithsonian cut a deal with Showtime making the media company a preferential media partner for documentaries using Smithsonian resources."
Not quite sure what this had to do with the larger topic. I would also like to note that in that same year, 2006, the Smithsonian also became a charter member of the Open Content Alliance for its print collections. Smithsonian collections represent an important part of the open access Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org). Lastly, today (6/16/08) marked the Smithsonian's joining the Flickr Commons.
sebastian mary on June 17, 2008 5:14 AM:
One of the wider themes the Institute has drawn out of the Google/libraries story is around the relationship between digitization and digital archives, partnerships between public organizations and corporations, and questions around the implications of such partnerships for open access to knowledge. My inclusion of this article is not meant to suggest that the Smithsonian is in some way aligned with Google's rampant enclosures of knowledge, or that it is unresponsive to the debates raised by the Open Content Alliance. But the article belongs there in the narrative of if:book's thinking on public archives and corporate partnerships, as it is an instance of such a partnership.
Over two years on, what changes have been felt if any? I would be very interested to hear from you - or others - whether you consider that Jesse's April 2006 article was right to suggest that Showtime's contractual right of first refusal to rights on any documentaries made using Smithsonian artefacts has in fact impacted on educational use of these public resources.
Michael B on June 20, 2008 12:59 PM:
Extremely useful to see the progression, again, in such a succinct form. Thanks!
However- I would be interested to hear a one sentence position on GBS. Personally I am torn...
Siva Vaidhyanathan on June 20, 2008 4:46 PM:
One you ommited:
In September 2007 the Institute launched a blog for a book-in-progress by Siva Vaidhyanathan called The Googlization of Everything.
Siva Vaidhyanathan on June 20, 2008 4:49 PM:
Oh, sorry. I see you did put it in. I did not see a link. So I missed it.
Anyway, this is very helpful. Thank you for doing it.