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This is all a little rich…

This is a reasonably off-topic post… I’m watching the Google copyright fracas with interest. Let me first state that I am clueless on most things legal in this area so this isn’t a legal viewpoint.

I have however watched in amazement at how Google, in the interests of the people of course, has repackaged news content while enriching their own revenue stream… The relationship between news organizations and Google has always struck me as reasonably symbiotic…

Google News points to news site while in the process representing some it’s copyrighted material –> news site benefits from traffic and profile –> Google gets some review from clicks and the like –> news org relents due to benefit of traffic, and who wants to piss off the search Gorilla anyway…

The difference between this and books is that the symbiotic relationship is much less clear. OK, seeing the book might tickle my fancy to spur me to shop for a copy. But not really. Amazon and BN already do a pretty good job of that. And if I want to search for a book I can use any number of legitimate library search engines.

The silent voice in all this is Amazon – the company most likely to be harmed by this. I definitely see the utility in me searching a book on Google and then getting 5 places to shop for it with low prices, and maybe even a link to my local library. But boy would that screw with Amazon.

At the end of the day, why should an individuals copyrighted content be paraded about, driving
Google’s revenue even higher without their permission – or
participation in the revenue stream. Wouldn’t Google have been smarter to invite publishers and writers to participate – and share the revenue with them? To which Google says this:

"The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library Project is fully consistent with both the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law itself, which allow everything from parodies to excerpts in book reviews. We regret that this group chose to sue us over a program that will make millions of books more discoverable to the world — especially since any copyright holder can exclude their books from the program. What’s more, many of Google Print’s chief beneficiaries will be authors whose backlist, out of print and lightly marketed new titles will be suggested to countless readers who wouldn’t have found them otherwise."

To which I say, don’t insult us… If this is the case, just focus on books no longer protected, or writers who agree with you. Invite them to participate.

And, if Google book search works as Susan describes, why do it at all. Sounds pretty useless to me. I guess, like me, the Authors Guild suspects something bigger to be afoot. Afterall, Google isn’t just scanning one page and the cover. So they are creating much, much more that a simple index card. This isn’t the first time the issue has flared up. And, it will keep coming-up until the issue of fair use is resolved.

If you want to play in the participatory era, you need to invite people to participate – and provide them with a mechanism for doing so. Scanning in other folks protected content – and in the process creating massive differentiation and revenue from that content strikes me as just, well, illegal.

2 Responses

  1. By Daniel Brandt on September 21st, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Your concern about Amazon is mistaken. Amazon’s “search inside the book” feature is done with the prior express consent of the rights-holder. The basis of the Authors Guild suit is that Google is grabbing copyrighted material from the University of Michigan library without the permission of the rights holder, and then making two copies — one for themselves and one for the library. The library owns the paper copy, and tradition gives libraries, particularly nonprofit libraries, an implicit license to loan out what they own to one reader at a time. If you own a book, you can do that too. You can also resell it. But you cannot copy the whole thing, which is what Google is doing.

    \\ Sorry, didn’t explain myself clearly… My concern isn’t about Amazon’s “search inside the book” feature from a copyright POV. My concern is that this is one feature that brings me to Amazon – along with the ability to find nearly every book I could want. If I could do that from Google, then it is unlikely I would do it from Amazon. Esp. if Google gave me more insight into pricing and would enable me to reserve the book at the local library. Indeed, my point is (partly) that Amazon has taken a commercial and participatory approach whilst Google is not. Participatory economics rely on permission. Google is using it’s position of immense power, under the guise of doing good, to generate more revenue at the expense of the rights holder, and those that built legitimate businesses based on permission. This is why I am surprised Amazon isn’t speaking out more…

  2. By The Baron on October 1st, 2005 at 8:49 pm

    I agree. The NZ Herald website is an excellent case in point. It has a copyright statement below its articles which says something like — “do not make an electronic copy of this article without our express written consent.” Seeing this, and then seeing those articles copied on Google, my company went ahead and copied all the the NZ Herald articles for distribution around the world on cell phones (headlines and excerpts). The Herald got wind of this and threatened legal action. Our point — well, if you take legal action against us, then you’d have to sue Google, Yahoo and a hundred others as well, because they’re all taking electronic copies. They replied — speciously — that they believe in the free flow of information and anyone on the Internet should be able to find information they require.

    So you’re absolutely right, Andy. If the Herald puts a fence around its information, blocks Google access, it won’t get the international click-throughs. But I suspect the Herald at some point, as the Maori have done with land rights, will try to claim rights over New Zealand knowledge — and leverage those rights to try to remain the authority on NZ affairs. Especially once they realize that Google is taking revenue from NZ keywords, and from NZ businesses which once went to the Herald for ad space, but now go to Google.

    This is especially ironic when you consider the Herald is happy for Google to do this — a bit as India was once happy for the British to buy its silk and sell it back to Indians in the form of clothing.

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