More on Google Book Search

From Robert Darnton‘s essay Google and the New Digital Future in The New York Review of Books:

The governments of France and Germany sent memorandums [sic] urging the court to reject the settlement “in its entirety” or at least insofar as it applied to their own citizens. Far from seeing any potential public good in it, they condemned it for creating an “unchecked, concentrated power” over the digitization of a vast amount of literature (this according to the French memorandum) and for doing so (according to the Germans) by a “commercially driven” agreement negotiated “in secrecy…behind closed doors by three interested parties, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and Google, Inc.”

In contrast to the commercial character of Google’s enterprise, both governments stressed the higher values represented by their national literatures. The French began their memorandum by invoking Pascal, Descartes, Molière, Racine, and other writers through Camus and Sartre, while the Germans summoned up the line that led from Goethe and Schiller to Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. Each country cited the number of its Nobel Prize winners in literature (France sixteen, Germany twelve), and each buttressed its case by other evidence of high-mindedness. The Germans insisted on Gutenberg and his contribution to “the spread of science and culture.” The French cited the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 in order to uphold the principle of “free access to information” threatened by Google’s “de facto monopoly.”

It is an odd spectacle: foreign governments defending a European notion of culture against the capitalistic inroads of an American company, and submitting their case to Judge Denny Chin of the Southern District Court of New York. What Judge Chin, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in a family of poor Chinese immigrants (and won a scholarship to Princeton University) made of it all is difficult to say. He did not tip his hand on November 13, nor did he say when a hearing would take place.

— Read Darnton’s 12.17.09 article in its entirety.

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