Friday, July 20, 2007


It was inevitable that the digital age would bring to the world of books what it has to the world of music: the ability to easily "access" (steal?) content without buying it. I just discovered one of my books has been scanned by Google (whose mantra is "don't be evil") and offered completely free online. It says pages are displayed by permission of the publisher (no one ever asked me) and I get zip (of course) should people read it online or print it out and read it.

But how can I be mad? I have songs on my MP3 player right now that I copied off CDs borrowed from the library. In truth, anyone could go to a library and read the book without purchasing it. So does this really change anything? Library patrons could always copy particular pages of a book they liked (I've done it) or folks could borrow the book from their friend and read it without buying it (done that too). Just as folks used to tape songs off the radio (or records borrowed from friends) onto cassette tapes. And I can see how from a consumer's perspective the Google Library is a great service (the text is searchable!). As someone who does a hell of a lot of online research, I will probably end up using it.

So why does it still bother me? Here are a couple of reasons: libraries pay for the books and CDs they stock. From what I understand Google isn't even buying one copy of each book, but instead getting them from several libraries they have agreements with. And most important: Google sells ads on its book pages and is therefore making money off books, unlike libraries. Here are some of the arguments the Author's Guild is making in their lawsuit against Google:

  1. Google is a commercial, not a charitable, enterprise. Google is worth roughly $90 billion, making staggering profits through its online advertising programs. Its investment in Google Library is intended to bring even more visitors and profits to its website and ancillary services. The Guild is all for profit, but when the profit comes from the works of authors, the authors should be properly compensated.
  2. Google is scanning entire books, not just “fair use snippets.” Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety — every sentence, every carefully chosen word — without your permission. That Google presents browsers with small selections of your work doesn’t change that.
  3. It’s not just public domain books. The Guild has no objection, of course, to the digitization of public domain works. The Google Library project goes far beyond that, encompassing works that are still protected by copyright, including in print and out of print works.
  4. Out of print doesn’t mean public domain. Out of print works are valuable. Out of print works are republished every day, bringing welcome new advances to authors and the prospect of new royalty income. That Google is willing to sink so much money into digitizing these works is further proof of their ongoing value.
  5. Authors (and the Guild) aren’t opposed to making their works searchable online with a proper license. With a proper license, in fact, far more than “snippets” could be made available to users. The opportunities are boundless, but it all starts with a valid license. This is no big deal, really; businesses large and small sign license agreements every day.

Right now, I have to say, I don't feel so good about the songs I've copied onto my MP3 player. Guess I got what I deserve.



Anonymous said...
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Carleen Brice said...

Just an FYI, the deleted comment was spam. I do NOT delete folks who disagree with me. I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Ms. Peri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms. Peri said...

(Previous comment delete due to typo. This is what I meant to say.)

This bothers me, too. Perhaps because, on one hand, major corporations stomp on individuals and small companies that take material under copyright (generally music) and using it for their own purposes, sometimes for profit, often not -- yet one of the world's largest multinational corporation is doing the same thing.

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Those without power complain about the rules; those with power change them?"

Carleen Brice said...

Excellent point! It's easier to stop a bunch of teenagers than it is a $90 billion company.