Wednesday, November 09, 2005

COPYRIGHT: Needless fight threatens Google's online library, USA Today says


Last week, the giant Internet search company Google made available online thousands of works of literature and history, ranging from Shakespeare plays to obscure Civil War documents. This was just the first batch of many to come. As part of a $150-million collaboration with five major libraries, Google plans to scan millions more books and make them accessible in whole or in part (depending on whether they are still under copyright) from personal computers. (Related: Opposing view)

This project has excited scholars, librarians and other dedicated bookworms, who see Google's program as a revolutionary research tool and a way to promote reading. It has also prompted lawsuits from publishers and authors, who see it as a colossal copyright infringement.

The publishers are not without reasonable arguments, but Google's are better. Copyright law specifically allows limited copying of protected material for purposes that serve the public — such as commentary, news reporting, teaching and scholarship — and Google's plan has broad public benefits. It will greatly expand the universe of knowledge online and could renew interest in out-of-print books.

What's more, a ruling that Google needs the specific permission from publishers to index a minimum of information could call into question the very notion of search engines. The fight seems unnecessary. Compared with the film and music industries, which have lobbied Congress extensively for punitive and unworkable anti-copying legislation, book publishers have a more practical and positive outlook on the digital age. When not fighting with Google over its library program, several publishers are collaborating with the company to index the books they have for sale.

The publishers' reaction to Google's library program is reminiscent of that of moviemakers to the VCR.

In 1984, the film industry came within a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court of a virtual ban on VCRs, an outcome that would look foolish today from almost any perspective.

Just as videocassettes soon became a major revenue source for the movie studios, Google's library program will stimulate interest in books that will help publishers profit.

In Google's book search engine, a keyword query that leads to a copyrighted work would produce only a few lines of text responsive to the search. These snippets can be useful research tools — and powerful inducements to buy whole books.

The publishers argue that the mere act of copying requires permission, even if Google does not plan to make more than snippets available. That is an extreme argument that rejects key copyright principles. Google's limited use of the material and the broad public interest it serves fall under a legal principle known as "fair use."

Publishers also argue that it should not be up to Google to determine how big the excerpts are. That argument is hardly new to the Google project. Copyright owners and institutions that invoke fair-use privileges have fought for decades about how much appropriation of others' works is reasonable.

Security is also an issue. Because Google and the participating libraries would have complete copyrighted works in their files, they have a responsibility to protect them from hackers.

These are not trivial concerns, but they are not reasons to quash the whole program. The ability to browse millions of books from anywhere is a world-altering tool. It would be a shame if it's stunted in its infancy.


Lack of sense and sensibility

By Pat Schroeder

Publishers and authors embrace emerging technologies. We do not think that innovation should have stopped with Gutenberg and moveable type. We recognize the benefits of the Internet to people everywhere and to us, as creators and as sellers of books. (Related: Our view)
We part ways with Google because of its cavalier attitude toward the legal rights of others. All that publishers and authors want from the Google Print Library is to get our permission before they scan and make available our work to the world for free.

Some publishers and authors may jump at the chance. Others may not. What is often lost in the battle of words is the fact that it should be incumbent on Google to ask, not incumbent on publishers and authors to figure out the Byzantine "opt-out" option Google purports to present.

This would seem to be a fairly simple and straightforward concept. You want something from someone that he legally owns, you ask permission. Just taking something because you want it is commonly called stealing.

Google wants us to believe this is all part of a utopian vision where the world's written works (and indeed all information) are available for free.

Google did not become the multi-billion dollar giant it is by giving away anything for free. What Google executives continually neglect to say is they will charge advertisers plenty of money to put ads on their site as you navigate your way to the Print Library. So Google gets even wealthier by illegally using the copyrighted works of people who get nothing in return. At best, this is intellectual embezzlement. At worst, it is a violation of rights grounded in the Constitution, in which the Framers saw fit to specifically protect our nation's creators.

Google jealously guards its own intellectual property rights for its search-engine software. Surely, the world would benefit ifeveryone had access to how Google works for free so anyone could search without having to read all those advertisements Google sells. How about that, Google? Fair is fair.

Former Democratic congresswoman Pat Schroeder is president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers.

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