If Google Gives In On Library Scanning -- Will It Hurt Everyone?

from the not-such-a-good-thing dept

A few years back, Google started scanning all the books they could get their hands on with their Google Print project. This was often with the publishers' permission. However, when Google couldn't get enough books, they also signed a deal with various university libraries to scan their books as well -- which upset the publishers who felt their deals were being undercut. It didn't take long for a bunch of publishers and authors to sue Google, claiming that scanning copyrighted books was copyright infringement. It's a bit more complex than that, of course. Google has a pretty strong leg to stand on, as they're not making all of the text available, but really creating an online card catalog/index for the books they scan. It's really no different than what they do for websites. If indexing books is found to be a copyright violation, then it's not a large leap to say that all of Google is violating copyright by doing the exact same thing to websites. It's also worth noting that being in such an index is a huge benefit to those included. That's why people fight like crazy to make sure they're well listed in Google. Yet, the book publishers seem to think they should be paid for Google to help people find their books.

The New Yorker is running an article that digs into the Google book scanning issue, and notes that many people (including those at both Google and the publishers) suggest that this is likely to be settled before it goes to court. Both sides say that this is really a business negotiating tactic -- suggesting that Google may just pay the publishers off at some point to keep them quiet. If they went down this route, it would be quite similar to what Google did with record labels when they bought YouTube. They basically paid them off to keep them from suing, while encouraging them to sue other competing projects. This is, as a few people note in the article, a really bad deal. It may work out for Google and the publishers initially -- but it hurts everyone in the longterm. First of all, it adds in a book indexing license that probably isn't necessary under copyright law at all. Adding in a de facto additional license doesn't help anyone.

It hurts the public by making it that much more expensive to get these books indexed. It hurts the libraries by making it that much more expensive to get their collections searchable by computer. However, what the New Yorker article doesn't note is that it really hurts Google and the publishers as well. It hurts Google initially by making it more expensive (not a huge deal to them), but it then opens them up to those same charges for indexing websites. It's just opening up a can of worms that they don't want to open. It makes things worse for publishers by effectively locking them into a Google-only solution. The article quotes Tim Wu noting that Google isn't the best at everything it does -- and small startups can often do a better job. However, by signing an expensive deal with Google, the publishers have limited book indexing just to a few huge companies, leaving the agile startups out of it -- even though those startups could do a better job of scanning books in a way that helps them sell more books. In fact, even if Google is doing a good job (and it looks like they are for now), having more competition would push them to keep doing a better job. Instead, if they do a deal, they can rest on their laurels, knowing that the competition will be limited. That may make life easier for Google, but it means the product won't be as good.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Riley, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 2:34pm

    Please tell me Google isn't going to be the next Microsoft. I enjoy having faith in Google...but I guess if you look at it from afar, the similarities are uncanny...from the way each company was created and the rate at which it exponentially expanded to how they're killing competition by throwing money around...I just hate to see the step taken when a good company goes from an awesome business and falls into the dark 'corporate' world.

     

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  2.  
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    spanktimonious, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 4:12pm

    Of course they will be the next microsoft - corporate greed, money, screwing the little guy - its the great amurrigan dream. the kind of country that votes in a turd like dubya deserves corporations like microsoft and google ... bend over and take it !

     

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  3.  
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    Gerald, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 4:16pm

    Word of the day is - Obfuscation

    I don't see how Google has a leg to stand on. Not only are they violating the spirit of Copyright by not giving fair renumeration for using copyrighted and public domain works for a commercial endeavor but are also violating the (in my understanding) letter of fair use by using the entire work for that same endeavor. Copying the entire book is only necessary to increase the overall value of Google's advertising space.

    Now if Google separates this project from all advertising and only displays the search tool and the resulting indexed listing then that would be a hoss of a different color.

    That, however, is not Google's stated business plan.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 29th, 2007 @ 4:21pm

    Re: Word of the day is - Obfuscation

    Not only are they violating the spirit of Copyright by not giving fair renumeration for using copyrighted and public domain works for a commercial endeavor but are also violating the (in my understanding) letter of fair use by using the entire work for that same endeavor.

    I don't see how that's true. They're supporting both the spirit and the letter of copyright law.

    They're not "competing" with the publishers by offering up a substitute product. They are offering fair payment in terms of getting those books much more attention. It's really no different than indexing the web. Do you think Google is violating both the spirit and letter of the law in indexing the web?

    The fact that they're using the entire work does not cancel out fair use protections. That's only one element of fair use, and you don't need to hit all of the different carve outs to be covered.

     

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  5.  
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    diana, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 6:51pm

    Book authors need to stop being so greedy and enjoy the fact that google is sending people to buy their books.
    If google was smart they would point that fact out instead of playing games with money.

     

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  6.  
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    Tony, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 9:37pm

    I don't think the publishing industry would settle

    Why settle when you know Google in on the defensive ? Go all the way, win it, then strike the deal later. Cigars for everyone.

     

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  7.  
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    Dempsey, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 9:41pm

    diana, it's not the authors, it's the publishers (who pass very little of the profits to the authors) who think every time one person reads one sentence of one book, they should pay money to the publisher. They need a new business plan. Great storywriters will always find a medium to tell their stories through. Ink-on-paper publishers can see past the next quarterly report.

     

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  8.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 9:51pm

    Card catalouges

    IF they liscenced thier book-analysing software to all libraries world-wide, for free, and tell everyone that all they are doing is getting a machine to read the book and decide how to categorise it and how to sort it within the categories, rather than doing it by hand, they should be fine.all thay are doing is waht every library does, creating a catalouge, they are just using a computer to generate the info, rather than rely ing on the British Library and the Library of Congress to do it. HTere is no way they casn loose, and they have far more money to throw aound than the publishers anyway.

     

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  9.  
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    Wizard Prang, Jan 30th, 2007 @ 6:18am

    Bravo!

    I could not have put it better.

    We seem to have have forgotten that the original purpose of copyright was to provide a limited incentive to creators - not a welfare system for elderly ex-artists, not a lifetime income for their next of kin, and certainly not a continuous money stream for middlemen.

     

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  10.  
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    Jamaal Johnson, Jan 30th, 2007 @ 3:03pm

    I have said it before, and will say it again...

    No search engine should even be allowed to copy any website without explicit permission. It could be as simple as creating a robots.txt file that says allow all. It should not be the other way around. No robots.txt file should = no right to copy. Many of you may disagree, but this is logically right.

    The same thing with books. If I wrote and published a book, I wouldnt want others to be able to replicate it freely in any way. If someone wants to advertise my book, I will give them specific copy that they may crop.

     

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  11.  
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    Xanthir, FCD, Jan 30th, 2007 @ 3:37pm

    Thanks a lot, Jamaal

    Congratulations, Jamaal. You've just killed every search engine that has ever existed. If permission isn't implicit (requiring special action to withdraw that permission), then the vast majority of sites on the net become completely invisible to search engines.

    With a policy like that, the internet becomes a whole lot crappier.

    The same thing with books. If I wrote and published a book, I wouldnt want others to be able to replicate it freely in any way. If someone wants to advertise my book, I will give them specific copy that they may crop.

    Good for you. Copyright does exactly what you said in your first sentence - prevents them from replicating it freely in any way. What you don't seem to understand, though, is that it *also* gives one the right to replicate some portions of your book in some ways. These are clearly deliniated by Fair Use, and somewhat less clearly by legal precedent.

    In any case, currently Google has every right to index pages. It could even ignore robots.txt if it wanted to - it honors that to be nice. The law can change, certainly, but that's how the law works.

     

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