The increasingly acrimonious squabble over the Google Books legal settlement has officially slid past that threshold — all too familiar during heated political campaigns — where the debate becomes about the debate.
The Open Book Alliance issued a statement today complaining not about the terms of the revised settlement offering, but about how Google rudely backed out of an opportunity to publicly wrangle over those terms. And how that means they’re hiding things.
First, Google released the settlement’s details at the witching hour of midnight on Friday. Then last night, Google refused to address the facts behind the book settlement on a widely respected national television news program.
Google continues to say they would like to have an open discussion on the merits of their revised settlement. However, the only discussions about the settlement seem to be occurring behind the closed doors of the company’s Mountain View, Calif. campus.
According to TechCrunch, Google Books Engineering Director Dan Clancy had agreed to appear on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer to debate the topic with Harvard professor Robert Darnton. With little notice, however, Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback was added to the line up.
Reback spearheaded the antitrust crusade against Microsoft last decade and, by the way, co-chairs the Open Books Alliance, whose members include Google competitors Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon.com.
Apparently Google didn’t want an engineer to spar with a lawyer on national television, which doesn’t seem as unreasonable to us as the incredulous tone of the Open Books Alliance statement would have one think.
As in politics, focusing on these sorts of trivial matters becomes a convenient stand in for the issues themselves because, of course, those issues are incredibly complex.
Besides, it’s easier to incite consumer emotions by saying a massive company is hiding from a public debate than by explaining that, say, Open Books Alliance member Amazon.com is worried about how the deal will affect their own dominance over the book industry.
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We accredit Computer World with the inspiration for this article.