Complaints Against Google Book Scanning Project Reach Ridiculous Levels

from the did-you-really-just-say-that? dept

There's a tremendous amount of opposition to Google's "settlement" with authors and publishers over its book scanning project. I'm on the record as being very much against the settlement, but for very different reasons than most people. Frankly, I think Google's book scanning project is an incredibly useful and culturally valuable project, that will help expand culture and knowledge sharing. It's a way to not just preserve culture, but to share it. I can't see how that's a bad thing. In effect it's really no different than Google's search engine in how it works. It's basically building a giant index so that people can search on it, and be pointed to the results that they want. Think of it as the most effective and useful card catalog you could ever have. Did people think the library card catalog violated book copyrights? Of course not...

So my main complaint with the "settlement" is why it's needed at all. Google had a strong fair use case in how it was running the book scanning project, and I saw no reason to cave. In caving, it's only set up plenty of other copyright battles -- with music companies, the press, video companies and more -- all demanding their share of Google's profits, for no reason other than that Google has scanned their works and points more people to it. There are, certainly, other objectionable parts to the settlement, but my main objection is the idea that it's even needed at all.

However, many others are objecting to the settlement for a series of increasingly ridiculous reasons, that make little sense. Gary Reback, the famed anti-trust lawyer who helped bring the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft a decade ago, is working with the Open Book Alliance -- a group that most certainly has admirable goals in terms of its own book scanning project, but which is clearly complaining about the "settlement" because it will give Google a leg up over its own efforts. Reback's filing over the matter makes the claim that that the agreement represents an antitrust issue:
"Google could never have achieved through free-market competition the dominant position in digital books it seeks through the proposed settlement," reads Reback's filing. "Unwilling to compete for share in the open market, Google chose instead to use court process to achieve dominance."
Really? As Danny Sullivan points out, despite Reback's claims, Google's dominant position in the digital book market was achieved via free market competition. To claim that it couldn't have been is simply wrong. It's then flat out misleading to suggest that Google "chose to use court process to achieve dominance" because it wasn't Google that used the process. Remember, it was the Authors Guild and various publishers who sued Google.

Next up, we have the Europeans, who are complaining about the Google book settlement as well. This is hardly a surprise. After all, it's been nearly five years since officials in France declared Google's book scanning project a threat to national French culture, and then got together with other European governments to dump billions of dollars into a ill-defined "competitor" that has produced little of consequence (and, indeed, seemed to have no direction). The competitor has been so useless that the French National Library -- whose boss first raised the alarm about the book scanning project five years ago -- has thrown in the towel and signed a deal with Google to allow the company to scan its books.

So, what's their complaint? Well, it's the same old complaint, that Google's book scanning project is somehow a threat to their culture:
European officials fear that if the Google project goes ahead in the US, a yawning transatlantic gap will open up in education and research.
James Boyle unleashes his wit in response:
"Oh my God! The Americans are about to create a private workaround of the enormous mess that we regulators have made of national copyright policy! They will fix the unholy legal screwups that leave most of 20th century culture books unavailable, yet still under copyright! They will gain access to their cultural heritage -- giving them a huge competitive advantage in education. This MUST BE STOPPED!! No one can be allowed to fix this for any other country because then we would be left alone stewing in our own intellectual property stupidity! We must forbid their progress in order to protect our ignorance."
Again, the settlement deal has tons of problems, and I still can't see how it's necessary or how it helps -- but many of the complaints about it are simply ridiculous.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ima Fish (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    "Did people think the library card catalog violated book copyrights? Of course not."

    Only because Jack Valenti didn't run the Authors Guild.

     

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

  2.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 11:27am

    This Just In!

    Rent seekers seek rent! Film at eleven!

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    jilocasin, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:08pm

    Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    The biggest problem is privacy. If Google (or anyone else) is the gatekeeper to tomorrows library/bookstore you can forget about privacy. Google, and by extension the government or anyone else will know every book you read, what titles you've scanned, etc. etc.

    It's no one's business what books you buy or choose to read.

    Since the Patriot Act allowed the government to get access to the books you've checked out at your local library, many libraries have taken to destroying those logs. If Google is in charge what are the changes of that happening? They still won't delete the records they keep of your searches. When pressed they propose easily reversible 'solutions'.

     

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

  4.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    The biggest problem is privacy. If Google (or anyone else) is the gatekeeper to tomorrows library/bookstore you can forget about privacy. Google, and by extension the government or anyone else will know every book you read, what titles you've scanned, etc. etc.

    I have to admit, I don't get this complaint. It's no different than claiming that Google is a privacy nightmare because it knows what you search now. The Google book thing is the same as searching the internet.

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    C.T., Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:29pm

    Anti-Trust Issues

    Reback's choice of words aside, I am surprised you don't think the G.B.S. raises some anti-trust concerns. It is essentially a collusive agreement between Google and the Author's Guild that will prevent other suppliers from being able to enter the market... it can easily be interpreted as a tying out arrangement, which raises classic anti-trust concerns.

     

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

  6.  
    identicon
    jilocasin, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    The biggest differences between Google search and Google books are:

    Currently you can search via someone else, not possible if Google gets the exclusive rights to orphan works or other titles.

    Currently you can browse books at a library, pay cash at enumerable book stores, if/when books go digital (and some books aren't in print so the only way would be via Google books) then you no longer have that option.

    People's books reveal much more about them than they might realize. When it comes to privacy, this country (US of A) sucks. Google is worse than most.

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    It doesn't stop there...

    The ridiculousness does not stop there. Read the article posted yesterday on EFF.org: http://www.eff.org/press/archives/2009/09/08

    Now, normally I really appreciate the work of the EFF, but they are way off base on this one. Check out this quote from author Bruce Schneier: "I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on my readers and reduce my readership, and therefore my revenue, from these books." Really? Because your book is now indexed into a search engine for every interested party to find, you are going to LOSE readership?? In what universe? If people are really that afraid of the privacy issues, guess what? They'll find your book(s) the old-fashioned way, the same way they do now.

    There seems to be this assumption that Google, by indexing the books, will suddenly be the only way in the world that people can access books. That's a ridiculous idea. They don't own, host, and control access to Web sites just because they are the dominant search engine.

    Frankly, the privacy argument just seems ridiculous to me. As Mike said above, people are already using Google to search for online content, which is far more varied and indicative of behavior patterns than book search would be.

     

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

  8.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    "I have to admit, I don't get this complaint. It's no different than claiming that Google is a privacy nightmare because it knows what you search now. The Google book thing is the same as searching the internet."

    Not so much the search, but the follow-through.

    It's no different than Amazon, really, and I don't hear a lot of bitching about that. (Although, give it time and/or an event....)

     

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

  9.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    So, somehow Google gets exclusive rights to the works it scanned in and will be the only one able to distribute it? How douse that work?

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    "Currently you can search via someone else, not possible if Google gets the exclusive rights to orphan works or other titles."

    Huh? If they're orphan works, how is Google going to get exclusive rights? Who are they getting those exclusive rights from? The absent authors?

    "Currently you can browse books at a library, pay cash at enumerable book stores, if/when books go digital (and some books aren't in print so the only way would be via Google books) then you no longer have that option."

    If books are going to "go digital," it will be a market-driven transition. If that's what consumers want, we'll eventually get there, Google or no Google. If not, no amount of Google indexing will cause it. And if books do "go digital," do you really believe that Google will be the only source? There are already a slew of other options available (Amazon, B&N, Borders, ebooks.com, Audible.com, Project Gutenberg, Librivox.org...is that enough or should I go on?).

    In addition, your point about some books not being in print completely undermines your argument. First, whether or not the book is in print has NO bearing on whether you can get it at the library or used book stores. Second, if Google is truly the "only way" to access a certain book, then the book scanning can only be a huge BLESSING, allowing access to works long unavailable to the public.

    From what basis do you blindly jump to the conclusion that having books indexed by Google means the end of all printed books, libraries, and every other good literary thing in the world?

    "People's books reveal much more about them than they might realize. When it comes to privacy, this country (US of A) sucks. Google is worse than most."

    Got any data to back that up, or did you just feel like throwing more scary-sounding hyperbole around?

     

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

  11.  
    icon
    taoareyou (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    If you buy a book online with Amazon or walk into Barnes and Nobles and buy a book with a credit card, or go check out a book in the library, there is a record of what books you have at least taken interest in that can be accessed by the government with the same authority as it would have with Google.

    On the plus side, nobody cares.

     

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

  12.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:55pm

    Bwahahahahahaha

    "The competitor has been so useless that the French National Library -- whose boss first raised the alarm about the book scanning project five years ago -- has thrown in the towel and signed a deal with Google to allow the company to scan its books."

    Well, he's French, what else could he do?

     

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

  13.  
    identicon
    Trails, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    Internal consistency in points ftw.

    "Currently you can search via someone else, not possible if Google gets the exclusive rights to orphan works or other titles."

    And those search records at Bing or whatever are equally subpoena-able, discoverable, etc...

    "Currently you can browse books at a library, pay cash at enumerable book stores, if/when books go digital (and some books aren't in print so the only way would be via Google books) then you no longer have that option."
    How can one browse a book out of print at a bookstore today?

    If you mean things like used/old/rare/antique bookstores, how does the google book deal prevent this?

    While there is certainly the possibility of privacy problems, how is this ANY different than buying books online from, for example, Amazon?

     

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

  14.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Anti-Trust Issues

    Reback's choice of words aside, I am surprised you don't think the G.B.S. raises some anti-trust concerns. It is essentially a collusive agreement between Google and the Author's Guild that will prevent other suppliers from being able to enter the market... it can easily be interpreted as a tying out arrangement, which raises classic anti-trust concerns.

    As I said, I don't think the agreement is a good idea, but I'm curious as to how it automatically prevents others from entering the market.

    Given my earlier statements that I believe this is a fair use situation, what's to stop others from doing this?

     

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

  15.  
    icon
    iamtheky (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    I bet I can use Google Chrome to browse Google Books all sorts of Google Incognito.

    Or god forbid you establish an account via a TOR browser with some bogus info and a one-off email address, but everyone else should probably protect your privacy for you.

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    C.T., Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    Huh? If they're orphan works, how is Google going to get exclusive rights? Who are they getting those exclusive rights from? The absent authors?

    The answer to your first question is yes... and it ties into the antitrust concerns that the Settlement raises. Google will essentially be the only entity that will be able to license uses of orphan works. Because this is a settlement to a class action suit, the Authors Guild is essentially bargaining on behalf of all authors.

    For a great account of these problems, check out this Pamela Samuelson's piece:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pamela-samuelson/why-is-the-antitrust-divi_b_258997.html

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    C.T., Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Re: Anti-Trust Issues

    Mike -

    If you haven't read the Pamela Samuelson article I posted in my previous comment (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pamela-samuelson/why-is-the-antitrust-divi_b_258997.html), you should definitely check it out. Because of the vehicle used to arrive at this settlement, Google will essentially be the only entity capable of licensing orphan works.

    I agree with you that this is potentially a fair use situation...however, a court approved (and enforced) class action settlement that exempts one competitor (Google) from being subject to litigation still raises antitrust concerns...IMO.

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    "Because this is a settlement to a class action suit, the Authors Guild is essentially bargaining on behalf of all authors."

    No, they are bargaining on behalf of all authors that are in the class. No one can force you to become a member of the litigating class in a class-action suit. You have to opt in.

    And yes, if the two parties collude to create a monopoly distribution, that would be antitrust. I believe that's a pretty severe spin of the actual situation, but if it is the case, let's attack this on the true issue of antitrust, and not the silly privacy garbage.

     

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

  19.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: Anti-Trust Issues

    "...owever, a court approved (and enforced) class action settlement that exempts one competitor (Google) from being subject to litigation still raises antitrust concerns...IMO."

    But, does it state that all other potential competitors will be automatically subject to charges/litigation? How else do you expect this lawsuit to work? The settlement only includes Google because THEY ARE THE ONES BEING SUED. How can the settlement POSSIBLY include other competitors? Blame the Author's Guild and their baseless lawsuit, not Google.

    "Because of the vehicle used to arrive at this settlement, Google will essentially be the only entity capable of licensing orphan works."

    Again, please explain yourself instead of repeating this mantra. That makes no sense at all.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    lol ..... the wrong phrase ....

    Since this is the french

    "thrown in the towel"

    should read "surrendered"

     

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

  21.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Anti-Trust Issues

    Okay, I read the article. What a mis-informed pile of garbage.

    The article presents Google's perfectly legitimate argument:
    "Google argues that relatively few books are actually orphans because BRR will find their "parents" and sign them up, and besides, it supports orphan work legislation. Google has also said that anyone is as free as it was to scan books and settle any future lawsuits on similar terms." (Or, they could be smarter, take it all the way through court, and have it revealed as the fair use that it is.)

    And then it goes ON to say:
    "Anyone else could build a digital library with public domain books and whatever other books it could license from publishers or BRR. But no one else can offer a comparably comprehensive institutional subscription service because only Google has a license to all out-of-print books."

    Huh? That is the exact, ridiculous claim that Google just refuted above. Nothing in the settlement suggests that no one else can do EXACTLY what Google did. So, how is this antitrust?

    Here's another stupid line: "Google already has a five-year head start, an ability to integrate GBS with other products and services, and licenses in place with many institutions."

    So, because no one else had the vision, foresight, or interest in such a project, Google shouldn't be allowed to do it, either? Criminy, it's not like Google kept it a secret.

    "A monopoly over institutional licenses would allow Google to charge monopoly rents."

    There IS NO MONOPOLY. Anyone else can scan away and go through EXACTLY the same legal processes as Google, or improve on them. Think about it. What if a competitor DID fight it and win the fair use argument? Where is Google's competitive advantage then, when they are shackled to paying royalties through a ridiculous settlement, where their competitor gets to offer book-searching services royalty-free?

     

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

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Anti-Trust Issues

    How so? It's a non-exclusive settlement. Anyone else can negotiate their own deal with the Author's Guild. If they are unable to settle on similar terms as Google, then they can sue the Author's Guild.

    I'm not sure that businesses are legally required to make the same contract terms for everyone.

    The fact that Google is there first certainly is no guarantee of success. Google was not, by any means the first search engine. And they are not the only one. And the cost of a user changing search engines is as little as typing a different URL into the browser.

    This case is going to be weird. Looks to me like a bunch of people are whining because they aren't Google.

     

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

  23.  
    icon
    Chargone (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 5:31pm

    you know, there was an objection to this one by some authors in New Zealand, too.

    the issue being that google would be scanning 'out of print' books. where 'out of print' means 'not available/published in the USA' ... meaning 90% of everything made and published Here from the day of release.

    whether it's a good idea or not, a number of authors were apparently unimpressed.

     

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

  24.  
    icon
    joeshuren (profile), Sep 10th, 2009 @ 6:52am

    Re: Orphan Works

    I agree with Michael's points about fair use and the noble purpose of Google's project, but he does not explain the problems of the settlement with orphan works and other works for which Google and the other parties to the settlement do not have legal rights now. Orphan works are the majority of works in libraries that are out of print but possibly under copyright, yet it is impractical to determine these rights so they can be put online. The settlement puts Google and the big publishers in a unique position to be excused from legal penalty if these rights holders show up later. Combined with exclusive arrangements with libraries, then Google has monopoly power. But such a balancing of rights should not be up to Judge Chin, it should be Congress. The public should be represented here, so that copyright is returned to its purpose of protecting for a limited, short period of time works so that authors are encouraged to publish new works. The default should be that works go into the public domain unless copyright owners register continuing claims to rights after this short period. Now the default, reinforced by the settlement, is the opposite, which locks up works perpetually and prevents them from being parts of our common public culture when it is possible for them to be put online easily. The settlement should be rejected as it is purely a money arrangement that unduly interferes with copyright law as to fair use and orphan works, and should be a matter for Congress not the courts or a private settlement. I am all in favor of book scanning projects, but not this settlement.

     

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

  25.  
    icon
    HolaJohnny (profile), Sep 10th, 2009 @ 8:09am

    Re: Bwahahahahahaha

    On that comment you lived up to the legacy and made me grin. I think its time to go watch some Mel Brooks.

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    jim deason, Sep 29th, 2009 @ 7:58pm

    security overdone

    I am annoyed at the securety the you forced upon me (my account) to use benchmarks. I don't need it, don't want it, and feel it an imposition. The effort to acquire an account is time that could be used for better things; this securety shouod be optional.

    sorry to put my complsint here but this is another example of googles convenience. Try to find where thus complaint should be registered!!

     

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

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2009 @ 8:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    "Currently you can search via someone else"

    You can search via anyone that makes free books available online. So what does this have to do with privacy? Nothing, other than your made up nonsense.

     

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

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2009 @ 9:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Pricacy - or lack thereof - biggest issue.

    "There are already a slew of other options available (Amazon, B&N, Borders, ebooks.com, Audible.com, Project Gutenberg, Librivox.org...is that enough or should I go on?)."

    Lets not forget http://www.scribd.com

     

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This