So, at last, the cards are laid on the table and we see what everyone's holding. And guess who's got the winning hand! No surprise there. Google, by a landslide. (Whoops, my subconscious hopes for election day slipping in there...)
It is absolutely fascinating to finally get to see the musings begin, musings about what this major business deal means for the future: the future of publishing, the future of the book, the future of Google, the future of libraries, the future of education. Well, let me rephrase that: What the major business deal *could* mean for all of the above, and more. Oh, that is the fun part. Imagining the possibilities. Imagining the potential. I'm an optimist and a true believer in the triumph of a good idea, no, a great idea.
So, I want to point you to a couple of commentators that I think are especially exciting, illuminating, thoughtful. I have by no means scoured the blogosphere; rather, these are my heroes, my guideposts, the people I trust to present a point of view that adds value to the discussion:
Library Journal, quoting both blogs below plus several others; Vaidhyanathan's Googlization of Everything Blog; and Larry Lessig's Blog
And my own thoughts on and feelings about the deal are a combination of heartbreak, exhilaration, relief, pride, thankfulness, and gratitude to the libraries who worked so hard to make the deal a better one for the public interest. So it's finally out in the open and those who have been agonizing over it for up to two years can now be joined by the many, many others who are eager to begin to think through, together, what has changed, for whom, how, and what it means.
Heartbreak: It hit me really, really hard to realize that Google utilized fair use strategically to bring the publishers and authors to a deal. My heart was in strengthening fair use. It has been for a long, long time. I felt betrayed, really hurt. But damn it, Google was right. It is right. This deal is way better for everyone, more value, more possibility, more of everything. For fair use to cover digitizing for indexing would have been nice, but it would not have given us this (and there was the chance Google could have lost, though I firmly believed Google would have won). Maybe we could have had both. A S.Ct. win for Google might also have led to a deal, but at much greater expense, much later. Google clearly felt it wasn't worth it, strategically, to add that piece to the picture. What Google did, worked. I got over it.
Exhilaration: From my first reading of the deal, I saw amazing possibilities that just inspired me to no end (after the shock wore off, that is). I was in a semester in my PhD studies where I was trying to generate ideas for a dissertation topic and this deal just spun out possibilities like a tornado. But I couldn't talk about any of them with anyone. What a hellish place that was. The announcement of the settlement dragged on and on and on. The date was always a moving target. Eventually I stopped thinking about it all. I just gave up and moved on. But it is *so* gratifying to see such smart minds beginning to examine the same little gems of possibility, and now there will be lots of people to talk to about it, lots of research projects, and lots of thinking about the future of it all. Is that not absolutely exhilarating?
Relief: Thank God the NDA (nondisclosure agreement) is finished. I'll never sign one again. You get to know incredible things, be a part of incredible things, but you can't talk to anyone about it. I hate that.
Pride: I got to be a part of, a teeny, tiny, eensy, weensy part of, an unbelievably complex (way too complex for me) unfolding of a new way to share knowledge, the knowledge that is out there but that has been forgotten, or soon would be forgotten, if physical books on physical shelves were the only option we had for keeping it alive and integrated into our social and cultural lives. I got to react and say what I liked and didn't like. At least a few people listened. Maybe I made some difference. Maybe not much, maybe not any. But it was really wonderful to be there. (Cf. paragraph on Relief -- legalese for compare for a contrast, or contradiction, the paragraph above on Relief where I say pretty much that it wasn't worth the agony of the nondisclosure agreement -- I guess I'm torn about that.)
Thankfulness: I decided to move on with my studies, as I mentioned above. I am thankful that this deal is finally out on the table and it will become what it becomes (not, what it could be, but what it will be).
Gratitude: I know first-hand that it was extremely difficult for the libraries who put tremendous effort into making the deal better reflect the public interest. I was only involved for 10 months. Harvard, UC, Stanford and Michigan were involved for almost 2 years. Virginia got involved only a few months ago, but pitched right in and went to work. Others followed over the summer and early fall. It was grueling to receive those drafts, repeatedly, to pore over them, analyze them, pushing here, prodding there, gaining concessions from the publishers/authors (never easily, of course), gaining concessions from Google. Those folks worked tirelessly to imbue the deal with public benefit. In the end, not all were satisfied with the degree to which the deal does in fact benefit the public, but they had done the absolute best they possibly could. Everyone anticipates criticism of the deal in this regard, as there was before: did libraries sell themselves short? I frankly don't think it is possible to fairly critique their effort without knowing what they were up against, how tirelessly they worked, how little the publishers and authors ever appeared to appreciate how critical their collections are to the dollars the publishers and authors now expect to make.
If one takes it as a given that this is a good thing (and a realistic, as opposed to idealistic and unrealistic way to get from here to there), libraries are not sitting at the head of the bargaining table, and they are not going to be able to get everything they wanted, or perhaps even much of what they wanted. But they sure put their all into it. It's not possible to walk a mile in their shoes. The walk is over. But I do hope that those who may be unhappy about the shape of the deal for the public (outside the obvious benefit to the public of discoverability, readability and the ability to buy "lost" books) won't be too quick to assume that any library could have done better. If the criticism is that none of us should have been involved at all, well, that's simply a non-starter. Libraries are not sitting the revolution out or trying to go it alone. Partnering is simply a fact of our lives. It always has been and always will be. We don't exist in a vacuum.
I hope the deal gets approved and moves on to implementation. It's exciting. I want it to succeed. It puts lots of feet firmly on the path. Who knows where that path leads? And boy does that make me smile.
Next time: orphan works, the sequel. Oddly, at the same time the publishers and authors were negotiating this deal with Google that structures access to orphan works in a particular way, they were also dealing with the Congressional effort to structure it entirely differently. What was up with that?