More on Google Book Search
I couldn’t help writing a rejoinder to those defenders of Google Book Search and, of course, good old Banks. Because everyone should have the right to own their own content, however, I’ve posted it here on Before. Why should World get all the good material? For those who haven’t been following this storyline, start at Marcus’ original post on Google Book Search, then read my comment, followed by his “redux” second posting.
I’m still troubled by some of the arguments advanced in Google’s favor. However nice or wonderful it would be to have every book in the world instantly searchable on the Internet, we cannot ignore the steady policy and laws of all the world’s democratic governments just because somebody would like to have that index.
Marcus claims that because some of the books have “absolutely no commercial significance to the publishers” somehow immunizes Google from abridging the copyright of the publisher or author. Unfortunately, our laws don’t permit an infringer to make their own assessment of a work’s commercial significance and, if they find it to be zero, to use with impunity. Further, I think the fact that the books are scanned shows they do have some commercial significance to Google. And perhaps many of these titles have been out of print for years: as Google clearly plans to demonstrate, these old books have a value that can be unlocked by the technologies of scanning and indexing.
And, since each book does have indisputable value, why should Google be the one to profit from the unlocking of that value? They’re not the author who wrote the book. They’re not the publishers who took a chance and made an investment in the book. They’re not even the libraries who shelled out a few bucks to buy the book. They have no stake in the business of writing books at all. So why should they benefit to the exclusion of the authors and publishers who do? It’s argued that our copyright laws are out of date, so there should be some special exception for the Googles of the world. But inventing a new technology is not some magic wand or shield that, when produced, defeats all claims held by the original creator and owner of a work. The MP3 pirates learned that the hard way.
And I have to disagree that the appropriation of property with no monetary value can’t be “theft” or even just plain wrong. I myself have been a victim of copyright infringement, so I know what it’s like. I posted a rather ridiculous video of myself on my web site scaling down the face of an artificial climbing wall. Months later, I went to the City Center mall and found it was showing on a fifteen-foot-high screen in a continuous loop! This was part of a video advertising all the fun things that might be found in a great downtown (for the record, the rock-climbing happened at Easton). Did my video have any monetary value? No. Did the company that stole my work and aired it thousands of times in a very public forum derive a commercial benefit? Yes — else why do it. Did they have, at the very minimum, the courteous obligation to ask whether they could use it? I think the answer to that is clear.
Google argues it would be impractical for them to ask the author or publisher of each book for the rights to scan the book before including it in their permanent digital archive. Therefore, they’re just going to do them all, copyright be damned. A simple analogy to the physical world points up the absurdity in this logic. Google’s stance is like my saying I can drive my car across the backyard of every house in the neighborhood, because it would just take too long to get permission from each homeowner.
Our system of copyright could not be more liberal. In order to claim the copyright on an original work, all the author has to do is put the word “Copyright” and the year on it. Unlike with patents, there is no central registry that authors have to apply to for permission: we just want to encourage creative endeavors by giving them reassurance that they’ll earn the fruits of their labors without interference. No high-flying tech company should be permitted to swoop in and take that away.