Last month, in discussing how publishers were angry at Google for its book scanning project, we noted that Google had decided to scan some books without the publisher's permission, citing fair use rights. It turns out the situation is a bit more complex. What really appears to have happened is the collision of two different book scanning projects. The first, Google Print, was where Google partnered with publishers and promised them that the scanned books would (a) help sell more books and (b) more importantly, allow them to get ad revenue associated with contextual ads alongside any pages that people viewed. However, soon afterwards, Google tied this project with their Google Library project, where they were partnering with libraries to scan all of their books. In those cases, there was no revenue sharing argument. The benefit for the libraries is that Google pays the expense of digitizing their entire collection, which the library then gets to use. Of course, there's a potential conflict here, as Google can scan a library book, even though the publisher of the book refused to take part in Google Print -- or, even if they agreed to take part, but now they won't get the revenue share from the ads. In some sense, again, it comes down to a question of "ownership." The publishers view ownership from the intellectual property point of view, saying that they own the words, and no one can do anything with them without permission. The libraries, on the other hand, are viewing ownership in the more tangible sense, along with the right of first sale -- saying that, if they own the physical books, they should have the rights to do what they want with them. It's a fine line, of course, but given the way the courts have been acting lately, it would seem likely that they would side with the publishers -- and claim that the libraries were violating the publishers' rights in digitizing the books in the first place.
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