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.