The tantalizing vision of universal access to the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity seemed close to fulfillment in 2008, when Google announced the settlement of a class-action lawsuit charging that its Google Book Search project infringed copyright by scanning in-copyright books from major research-library collections. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, later asserted that the settlement was a big win for everyone because it would create a “library to last forever.”

But it was not to be. The very ambitiousness of the settlement was its undoing. In 2011 a federal judge ruled against it, mainly because it went too far beyond the issues in litigation, which concerned only whether scanning books to index their contents and make snippets available was infringement or the limited exception, fair use, since snippets would not supplant—and might enhance—demand for the works. Having failed to reach a more limited settlement, the litigants are expected to go to trial this fall.

The failure of the Google Book settlement, however, has not killed the dream of a comprehensive digital library accessible to the public. Indeed, it has inspired an alternative that would avoid the risks of monopoly control. A coalition of nonprofit libraries, archives, and universities has formed to create a Digital Public Library of America, which is scheduled to launch its services in April 2013. The San Francisco Public Library recently sponsored a second major planning session for the DPLA, which drew 400 participants. Major foundations, as well as private donors, are providing financial support. The DPLA aims to be a portal through which the public can access vast stores of knowledge online. Free, forever.

Continue reading in The Chronicle of Higher Education


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