Defending Google's licence to print

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Google's plan to create an index of millions of books has got them
into legal trouble, but technology analyst Bill Thompson thinks they
should press on despite the lawsuits.

This is so that researchers at universities, schoolchildren in
libraries and anyone at home can quickly find titles which might be
relevant to their work.

Called Google Print, it is a bit like Amazon's feature that lets you
search inside a book. Unlike Amazon, where you can then read a few
pages from each book you find, Google will only give you enough detail
to let you know that you have found what you are looking for.

It is a great idea, and the resulting catalogue will rapidly become
the starting place for researchers around the world.

But it might not happen, because the project is currently stalled
after three US authors sued Google for scanning their copyright

'Brazen violation'

The authors, with support from the US Authors Guild, call the project
"a plain and brazen violation of copyright law" and argue that "it's
not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners
of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be

I am an author, so I have an interest in this, and even though I have
many doubts about Google's operations and ideology, I have to support
them in this one.

A few years ago launched It was a great service
which let you listen to your music collection anywhere.

They ripped tens of thousands of CDs onto their servers. Once you had
an account with them, you fed your CD collection into your computer
and it flagged which ones you owned. Then you could listen to them
from any computer you were using.

It was grey enough for the record industry to sue them out of

Google is big enough to stand up to the pressure, and it can afford
even more expensive lawyers than the Authors Guild.

But there is a danger that now they are a public company obliged to
enhance shareholder value, they will instead cut a deal with them to
share revenue or pay to license this way of using the text.

We would get our catalogue then, but have lost something equally
valuable - the ability for anyone else to do what Google has done.

After all, why should I not be able to scan the books I own and index
them so that I can find out exactly where William Gibson first used
the term "cyberspace"?

Google is having to scan books, except where the library already has
an electronic edition - but at least they can do this.

We should not forget that nobody, not even Google, could legally do
the same thing for documentaries on DVD or music stored on the iTunes
Music Store.

The content there, even if it is itself in the public domain, is
protected with encryption and digital rights management software, and
breaking that protection is illegal even if you want to use the
material for legitimate purposes.

It is good that they can avoid the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
but we must not let a strong reading of copyright law deter them

Rights and innovation

There is a growing movement to treat copyright and other forms of
intellectual property as if they were just like other forms of
property right.

This would mean that Domino Recording, who hold the copyright in the
new Franz Ferdinand album own it in the same way I own the laptop I am
currently writing on.

That is not the case. Copyright is a time-limited state-granted
monopoly that gives the rights holder certain privileges.

It is a bargain between the state and creators that is supposed to
benefit both sides, rewarding creative endeavour and therefore leading
to a general improvement in society.

Rights holders have often tried to use the law to stop innovations
that do not benefit them directly.

In the 1970s the movie industry tried to kill video recording, and the
record industry has only just begun to realise that online
distribution is the key to their future survival rather than the
devil's handiwork.

Now some authors and their trade association are standing in the way
of progress, even though it is clear that the main beneficiaries of
the project will be publishers and the authors themselves.

They will sell more books or, if they are academics, see their
research read and cited more often. There will be a general increase
in the quality of university research simply because vital sources
will be overlooked less often.

The world will be a better place.

Clear motivation

Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, chair of the Creative Commons,
puts it clearly when he points out that the authors "don't really want
the court to stop the new technology. Then, like now, they simply want
to be paid for the innovations of someone else. Then, like now, the
content owners ought to lose."

He is right. But even if they win, we authors ought to have any
victory under current law taken away from us.

If existing copyright law can stop Google, or anyone else with the
inclination, from creating such a phenomenally useful tool, then
copyright law is wrong and must be changed.

There are three things Google can do now to make it clear that profit
is not the only thing motivating them in the project.

First, they can change the name. "Google Print" makes publishers and
authors think of print on demand and printing extracts, but even the
US Authors Guild might have been happy to see the launch of "Google

Second, and more crucially, they can open the project up to anyone who
wants to participate. That means publishing the technical
specifications and any relevant APIs so that - for example - I can
search the database from within my web application without having to
show their ads on my site.

Finally, they should let any library in the world have a copy of the
electronic versions of all the books they hold that are in the
catalogue. Not a link to the Google website but a real copy, to be
held locally and used by the library under a very relaxed and
permissive licence.

Otherwise we will just have to kick off an open source scanning
project to create a free catalogue of our own - I have got a few
thousand books to get started with - and let the publishers sue ten
thousand of us.

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Re: Defending Google's licence to print

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Re: Defending Google's licence to print

Paul wrote:
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Do what? Does Bill Thompson understand what Open Source means? I have an
idea, let the publishers sue Bill Thompson first.

---------------------- /

Re: Defending Google's licence to print

Paul wrote:
 > Google is big enough to stand up to the pressure, and it can afford
 > even more expensive lawyers than the Authors Guild.

I like this one. So in Bill Thompson's worls whoever has the most
expensive lawyers wins. Hey we could get rid of the courts altogether.

Re: Defending Google's licence to print

On Wed, 12 Oct 2005 09:49:23 +0200, davidof

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Wel, they are both in the United Claims of America, so yes, the fatter
the cheque-book (check book) wins ;)

Paul - Don't shoot the messenger

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Re: Defending Google's licence to print

Paul is totally right here.  A strongly de-facto basis for the American
system of jurisprudence is that might makes right, and the empirical
measure of might is (generally) money.  The entire society has come to
tacitly accept this, and every level of jurisdiction has approved of
this throughout the centuries.

Each town, city, state and federal court system, the people (generally
the prosecution) usually boast of high "conviction" rates because the
"people" have all the detectives, all the evidentiary custody, and
large staffs funded by tax revenues.  On the other hand, each defendant
would be relegated to either a personal lawyer or public defender, and
would have to foot the bill for their own detectives and are at the
collective mercy of the state to act in "good faith" in order to let
any exculpatory evidence be properly disseminated (in a timely

A prime example is the OJ Simpson trial.  For once, the playing field
was "level"-ed -- a defendant had the wherewithal to mount a legal
defense which rivalled the prosecution's.  If every case was similarly
funded and handled, does anyone doubt that the level of successful
convictions would plummet?  Ok, it's really an epic challenge to
outspend a federal-level prosecution.

It's not merely criminal cases, but it is understood that civil cases
and quasi-civil cases, too, are basically bought in the overwhelming
majority of cases. The Recording Industry Of America, the RIAA, has
unleashed a swath of lawsuits against "the regular folk"...  If the
people don't settle, then it goes to court.  A person could conceivably
challenge such a case, but the costs are monumental when the average
budget for a normal family is considered.  There are even terms for
such tactics and whole disciplines which study the tactics, like
Litigation Risk Analysis (in this case they'd be assymetrical nuisance
suits, they are made to intimidate or coerce/extort, but are legal,
because the money makes it legal -- if people had
line-item-veto-powers, they'd make this kind of action against the

The government and big-business always sour-grape these things when
situations go against them (like those losers Marcia Clark and Darden
in the OJ case, and the entertainment/book industries in the
reality-case of the digital media age)...  It's funny to hear their
whining "protect my horse-and-buggy whip business"...

Re: Defending Google's licence to print

Paul wrote:

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Thats not a 'growing movement' at all, they've always been that way.
Thats why they're called /property rights/, not anything else.

What is a growing movement, is the idea that IP can be treated as a
natural resource, like air, water or oil, which is just sat there
waiting to be commodified by anyone with the technology to do so.

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No, actually, it doesn't. What it means is that Domino Recording have
been given the right to copy and distribute duplicates of the album, by
Franz Ferdinand, and you haven't.

Also, you do not have the right to copy and distribute duplicates of
your laptop either (patents, design rights etc.).

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Ownership of all property is inherently ideological and state-granted.
Ask the Chinese, or read some political history.

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Does Google fund his research per-chance? The authors simply want to be
paid for someone else commodifying their innovations.

Typical, ignorant IT person who thinks you can apply the same models to
software development and the arts.

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It is in nobodys interest to take absolute power over the distribution
of art away from the artist, and put it into the hands of a corporation,
no matter how superficially beneficial their application may appear.

If it were the United Nations Econmic and Social Development people
doing it, with opt-in clauses, which obeyed standard international
copyright law, then yes, why not? But it isn't. It's a commercial
company ripping off the authors of the world in order to make a quick buck.

By the way, why isn't Googlebot OpenSource?



Re: Defending Google's licence to print

Paul wrote:

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<paul - sorry, i hit "reply to sender" instead of "to group" - doh!>

Last time I was at university, academics were required to actually /do
the reading/ not just take snippits out of context and copy and paste
them into their papers.

The quality of academia will drop severly if people don't have to engage
with the whole arguments of other works, and GoogleBoox ain't gonna let
people do that.



Re: Defending Google's licence to print

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No problem Davémon. Been there. done that :)

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Sadly this is becoming more common now though.
There is even a site where treachers can check to see it the person
taking a test is copying and pasting.

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Google is becoming the new microsoft in the way of making friends <G>

take care

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