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What's at stake in Google's plan to digitize all the world's books

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Lawyers representing both Google and the coalition of authors and publishers met in a New York courtroom Wednesday to update the judge on how they are doing in addressing these concerns. "We have been working closely with the authors and publishers to explore a number of options in response to the court's decision," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "At today's status hearing, we asked the court for more time to discuss those options."

The court granted a 60-day extension.

The judge laid out a road map of issues in March, including whether to enact an opt-in or an opt-out system for authors whose works are being digitized. This is a primary concern for some authors.

As Google pursues its mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, it comes into direct conflict with the creators of that information who wish to make a living,” says David Runyon, a librarian at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, via e-mail.

“Universally accessible” carries connotations of “free,” he notes. “While I hesitate to suggest the Google book digitization project will endanger literature, free expression, art, or anything else, it is another step in the erosion of our understanding of information as property.”

"Unless Google is willing to compensate information creators for their work (and buy authors’ permission to distribute those works), then we cannot expect anyone to take up information creation as a profession,” he adds.

Some authors enthusiastic

But not all authors are so wary of Google Books. "Access to the accumulated knowledge represented by out-of-print books, if it can even be worked out, would be a boon for authors, publishers, and for the world of knowledge at large,” says Scott Turow, president of the Authors' Guild.

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