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  It’s argued that our copyright laws are out of date, so there should be some special exception for the Googles of the world.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.

You may also like...

9 Responses

  1. Sondra says:

    Hey Bill… I can’t watch your cheesey videos, they can’t be found on this server… damn… I was hoping to put another cheesey video of you on my Lap Top to play during class!

    BTW–this is a very interesting topic. I don’t really know what I think about it. Both you and Marcus make some very good points!!!

  2. Marcus says:

    Because I agree that ‘Fore deserves some of the good material, I’ve decided to post my response here.

    As always, Bill is a formidable opponent. It is true that City Center should have contacted him before playing that video on a 15 foot wall. Even so, the story struck me as amusing more than anything else, and not as strong as parallel to what Google is doing as Bill believes.

    With the “rock-climbing video heist,” City Center had an easy way to contact the creator of the work: Mr. Cash is readily available. With obscure library books sitting on creaking shelves, the author may be dead and the publishing company could have changed hands multiple times. “Just asking the publisher” is not a trivial matter.

    But so what? We all have to do what we don’t want to sometimes, and surely an ultra-rich company like Google can afford to hire numerous copyright detectives. The critical point here: they shouldn’t have to. The library owns the work, and not the publisher. And by virtue of the first sale doctrine, it is the library’s decision about how to distribute the materials they own.

    Let’s look closely at how those library works are being distributed. Is it really a case of rampant piracy of copyrighted works, available for anyone in the world to see? Um…No. Google only shows snippets of copyrighted material in public view, no more than would appear in a book review. If the book is still under copyright, searchers are directed to a library or online book store to obtain the full book. Google even tracks user downloads to make sure that copyright is not being violated:

    Far from a renegade operation by those cocky jocks in Silicon Valley, this is a calibrated approach that seeks to exploit the fair use while protecting copyright provisions. Of course you can disagree with how Google has set up the program. But it is hard to see it as heedless theft, no matter how Bill spins it.

    Even with all that said, I still wish that it was the Library of Congress rather than Google doing this. If so, nobody could say that profit motives are the ultimate driver of the operation. While I will support Google as long as they keep ads off library results pages, they are still a mega-million dollar company.

    But let’s imagine that the Library of Congress were in charge. Would that appease the publishers? Of course not. The argument would simply shift. Instead of “big bad Google,” “faceless bureaucrats in Washington, DC” would be hell-bent on destroying the American publishing industry. It’s hard to square this claim with the fact that the book scanning program is likely to result in *increased* sales. But that’s what the publishers would say.

    Perhaps I’m being too hard on the publishers. They are only protecting their interests, after all. But please spare me the righteous hymns about how copyright induces creativity. None of that has changed, and Google does not aim to do this either. The bottom line is simple: The world has changed, and the publishers want the old one back.

  3. Bill Cash says:

    You really think the first sale doctrine applies to the content of books? That one is a loser for libraries. Saying, “The library owns the work, not the publisher, so the library can give away as many copies of the content as they want,” is exactly like saying “The teenager owns the music, not the record company, so he can give away as many copies of the music as he wants.” As we’ve shown, that’s simply not true, and as I’m sure you’ll be happy to agree, that’s a positive feature of our copyright system.

    Technology does advance. But that does not mean technology can be used as a magic wand to vanquish the rights of those who have put sweat equity into creative works. Copyrights are held and do not sour as quickly as milk, even if a publisher does happen to change addresses. You cannot put the burden of cooperation on the author just because it would be too hard to put it on the infringer. Google won’t even try.

    The fair use exception does not apply because Google is making a substantial profit off this program even if it does not directly advertise on the book pages. We know this because they wouldn’t be risking all this controversy otherwise. They are building their company’s image and stock price on the backs of authors who never foresaw their books used in this way.

    Marcus, as an author, librarian, and reader, you should be on the side of books, not pilfering.

  4. Bill Cash says:

    And another thing. :) You can’t have it both ways. For a particular book, either the copyright holders are long dead, gone, and whatever, and we can’t find them, OR the scanning program is going to lead to increased sales because the book is still in print. And if any book is still in print, it is hardly unreasonable for Google to contact its publisher and obtain legal permission.

  5. Marcus says:

    We’re hitting the exhaustion point here, but I do want to point out that another component of Google Book Search involves licensing materials from publishers:

    I maintain that Google Book Search respects copyright while exploring the benefits of new technologies. As an author, librarian, and reader, I am glad to support it.

  6. Marcus, Bill et al,

    Sorry, it’s taken me so long to comment. I’d like to make a few comments about Google Print/Book Search but less about the legal issues than those pertaining to search:

    1. My Canadian colleagues – who put up with my constant blogging about Google – don’t really follow Google with anything other than a vague, passing interest. (Perhaps they rely on me to point out the intracacies.)

    2. Some Canadian librarians are skeptical of Google Book Search for the same reasons as the French. (Fear of American cultural domination.) In Canada, books enter the public domain fifty (50) years after the death of the author. Perhaps Google should contemplate digitizing more Canadian content, instead of running afoul of the AAP.

    3. In evaluating Google Book Search and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature for a lecture recently, I gave Amazon high marks for transparency and browsability. What I found most useful in both sources was the idea of searching for snippets. I appreciate being able to search across a book’s content quickly, and find a relevant snip. This is a handy browse feature, and does not for me replace buying the book. It merely supplements and amplifies its utility and my enjoyment.

    All for now,

    Dean Giustini
    UBC Google scholar blogger

  1. 30 Jan 2006

    Google Book Search Debate Rages

    Bill and I have carried on the debate that started here, over on Before. Look for Bill’s posting–which links to the earlier threads of the debate–and then the comments below it. As of now, it’s wrapped up. Neither of us

  2. 18 May 2007

    No Fax Payday Loans…

    No Fax Payday Loans oyjwpfobrl…

  3. 12 Jun 2007

    […] a way to help deal with the problems of digitizing books?  (We all know how everyone feels about stealing books.)  Since scanning technology can’t read everything perfectly, and people solve these […]