Putting Google Library Into Historical Perspective

from the information-is-a-good-thing dept

Reader Jon writes in with a link to a fascinating New Yorker article that really puts Google's book scanning project into historical perspective. While there are all sorts of ongoing legal scuffles about the efforts to scan and make books and information more widely available, when viewed in the context of history, the legal arguments look even more ridiculous. The benefits to making content more widely available and more easily accessible are so big that it almost seems crazy not to do it. The article goes through all the struggles cultures have had over the ages just trying to classify and organize all sorts of books and information to make it usable -- and here we are with the tools and ability to go beyond everything that's been possible in the past... and we're stymied by a disagreement over copyright law? That just seems sad.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 8:15am

    Isn't a library a library?

    I think Google has done a fine job in
    trying to accomodate all parties and
    wish the copyright holders would realize
    that a library, is a library.

    In fact I'm more likely to purchase a hard
    copy of a book if it's ONLY available on-line.
    A PDF just doesn't cut it for me when I want
    to browse.

     

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  2.  
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    I Like Mike, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 8:45am

    Libraries violate copyrights

    I can check out a book, magazine or newspaper at a library for the prices of a library card ($10 where I live). Do the authors and publishers of those works get a piece of the that $10? Nope. So how is Google any different from a library?

    Electronic Books/Magazines/Journals fit into the same mold as Mike's position papers on music as an infinite good. The price of infinite goods is zero. You have to find alternative business models for making money off any infinite good. Google is simply forcing the industry to face that reality.

     

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  3.  
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    Kev B, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 8:58am

    Greed

    This is simple greed. There is no logical argument to wrangling over copyright law that I can see. As long as Google buys a copy of the book they propose to scan and doesn't let users arbitrarily upload works then what is the issue.

    The only real issues is speed and scale of distribution. A library retains a one-to-one relationship between a copy of a book and a borrower. Google can distribute the same book to literally millions of people concurrently.

    The biggest part of this that I don't understand is why mass distribution and availability is a bad thing. For certain texts I can see the argument carrying more weight. Reference texts for example. You don't "read" a reference manual. You look something up in it. In that case it is highly unlikely that a person would buy the book after viewing it on google. But a novel is a different proposition entirely. The vast majority of consumers, myself included, want to sit in a chair, under a tree, on a beach, in bed, in the bath, on the can etc. and have a bunch of paper glued together in our hands. It's part of the therapy of reading. I would be prepared to wager that as much as 90% of all fiction readers would not want to read novels on their computer.

    So perhaps a compromise could be reached. Novels/fiction or novel-style non-fiction (ie. not reference manuals) should be freely distributed online through google library. Reference texts etc. are in a subscription area where either google or the publisher, or both, can charge a reasonable subscription fee and recoup money that way.

    In this day and age, most people will surf the net for an hour rather than pay $90 for a reference text and will likely get approximately equivalent quality.

    This is just one more example of resistance to change in a very backward thinking industry.

     

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  4.  

    I Like Mike

    Interesting Point. The library system seems to have worked well over the years without several copyright lawsuits so what makes that any different than Google's plan?

     

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  5.  
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    That Guy, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:01am

    Re: Libraries violate copyrights

    Your library model isn't accurate.

    This is how it's different...

    The google model promotes infinite access to materials. Libraries work on a fixed supply of a title, and an allotted limit of time for usage of the title.

    That scarcity, and the constraints placed on the usage of the book, forces a segment of the market to pursue acquiring the book via purchase.

    I have a hard time buying the "reality" argument. The true reality is that there are copyright laws that govern usage and distribution of media, those copyright laws then funnel the acquisition of the media through revenue generating transactions that return money to the creators of said media.

    The "reality" that you propose only occurs in a deregulated market. So it's not a reality at all, its merely a theory on an economic model.

     

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  6.  
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    anonymous coward, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:09am

    google for president!

     

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  7.  
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    TheDock22, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:26am

    There would be a way...

    For Google to limit the number of users who have access to the documents in question. It would be dumb, but possible.

    And personally I never borrow a reference manual from the library, I always buy them because I use them so often. I am more likely to borrow a novel since I can finish it in a couple weeks and probably will not read it again.

    Online I think is great. Periodicals have been in an online system for years now and it makes it so much easier to find a new article than digging through the library. You know, if libraries got involved enough, you would be able to view the book online and then check it out at the library all in one place. Now THAT would be useful.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous of Course, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:49am

    ow, that hurt.

    For once we're completely in agreement.

    Technical books I usually purchase.
    Recreational reading is often obtained
    second hand from friends.

    "Here, you'll love this book."

    Online access to the library cardfiles
    is very helpful but being able to peruse
    even an abstract would be great.

     

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  9.  
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    obvious idiot, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:53am

    Re: Greed

    "The only real issues is speed and scale of distribution. A library retains a one-to-one relationship between a copy of a book and a borrower. Google can distribute the same book to literally millions of people concurrently." There's your logical argument, in your own words. Duh

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 9:56am

    I disagree. And really want to know how much is Google paying you to put up this cr4p? If Google were to scan these books and make the digitized copy available to the Governmental archives, which could be accessed by anyone and anybody without a cost, that would be different. But no, they require users to create a login, to view Ads, and finally get a few pages to read. What good is that?

     

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  11.  
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    Casper, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re: Libraries violate copyrights

    Your library model isn't accurate.

    This is how it's different...

    The google model promotes infinite access to materials. Libraries work on a fixed supply of a title, and an allotted limit of time for usage of the title.

    That scarcity, and the constraints placed on the usage of the book, forces a segment of the market to pursue acquiring the book via purchase.

    I have a hard time buying the "reality" argument. The true reality is that there are copyright laws that govern usage and distribution of media, those copyright laws then funnel the acquisition of the media through revenue generating transactions that return money to the creators of said media.

    The "reality" that you propose only occurs in a deregulated market. So it's not a reality at all, its merely a theory on an economic model.

    You are acting as though scarcity was an intended component of libraries, when in fact, it is a by product. Same concept with the check out time frame, it is only in place because they want to be able to get the book back and give someone else a chance to check it out. If they could, they would operate like Googles proposed system. They just happened to be the best solution for a time before digital media.

     

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  12.  
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    Freedom, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 10:31am

    Copyrighted VS Non-Copyrighted Work...

    If I am late to the party and missing something, please forgive me my ignorance in advance ...

    I see two issues, one is for copyrighted work which the author should have a fair and reasonable method of revenue sharing for their 'product' which would be available via Google. If not, what is the incentive for producing the work in the first place?

    The second is for older works that are out of copyright and can be effectively used for free. In these cases, all that material is free game for Google. If Google can distribute better and cheaper than the book publishers then I see no reason why they shouldn't - a better solution is a better solution even if it hurts an existing business model.

    As a society and person, how great would it be to have effectively free access to any work older than x years. As long as there is still incentive for those to create the works in the first place, then I see this as a long term win win.

    The next hurdle is going to be software. Why shouldn't we have access to the full source code of any commercial application after x years?

     

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  13.  
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    A. Nonymous, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 10:47am

    Re: Copyrighted VS Non-Copyrighted Work...

    Freedom, like you, I beg forgiveness if I misunderstand something here. I completely agree with your second point, but it seems your first point misses the mark a bit (as do the others).

    Google Books relies on the concept of Fair Use. While they may scan the entire book, you can't actually read the entire book online. For example, A Clockwork Orange is around 200 total pages, yet I could see less than 20 including the covers on Google Books. If I wanted to read the whole book, there is a handy link to Amazon on the right where I can buy the book (the revenue sharing you were talking about?).

    It is for this same reason that the library analogy is also false. When I check a book out from the library, while I am the sole person with access to the book, I have access to the WHOLE book. Regardless of how many people can simultaneously access copies on Google Books, nobody has access to the whole book!

     

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  14.  
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    YEp yep yep, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:07am

    I will never go to the library ever again if this happens. I still dont see wats their problem with all this.

    Now that i think about it from the previous comment... libraries should get in all kinds of trouble... i know ppl who get books or cds and just rip them. its like p2p but without the garbadge and viruses and such

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    :), Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:14am

    You should put the guy who invented the printing press to jail.. that would solve all of the problems at once.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Freedom, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: Copyrighted VS Non-Copyrighted Work...

    A. Nonymous, my bad, I should have done my homework first before posting on point #1.

    I didn't fully understand that only a portion of the copyrighted work was capable of being displayed by Google. If that's the case then within the limits of fair use and with reasonable efforts done to prevent automatated tools from gathering the entire work then I see no wrong. Especially if a link to Amazon or similiar is added. In some ways, this will encourage more revenue for the author as this might be the only way to even know if a book exists and is revelant (especially for reference texts).

    This is a really exciting time. Models are changing ever day along with increased effeciency and access to it. As long as there remains a method to reward those that do the work, then in the end, it's all good :).

     

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  17.  
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    I like Mike, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:45am

    Re: Re: Copyrighted VS Non-Copyrighted Work...

    I didn't understand the limits placed by Google either so thanks for clearing that up. It sounds to me like Google is helping to maintain scarcity by only making small portions available but affording you the opportunity to purchase the entire work (i.e. links to Amazon). If I understand this correctly then Google is providing access to a wider audience within the limits of fair use for copyrighted material. Sounds like a win/win to me.

     

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  18.  
    icon
    JS Beckerist (profile), Nov 6th, 2007 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Greed

    A lot of college professors even stoop to writing their own reference books. I remember paying 160 USD for a "textbook" that was literally 100 photocopied pages in a three-ringed binder. The catch was that the ONLY place you could buy it was at my school's store (the only school that even used it.) As it was mandatory for the class, the professor made a cool few grand extra each year as a result.

    Now if I could have only found it on Google...

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 1:33pm

    I can help vouch by saying that if I even had access to a book online, I'd go out and buy it. I am almost never in town (I live in a rural area) and so I can never just go get a book. What if that book isn't very good? I went up there for nothing.
    If I had the chance to skim over the book or read a chapter or two, I'd be more than glad to go get the (good) books.

    I don't see why this is a bad thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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