November 03, 2024

Google v. Themselves v. Publishers v. Authors

Today is supposed to the much-anticipated, much-feared launch of Google's Library program, originally designed to put the entire contents of some of the nation's largest library institutions online in searchable form.

I've been interested in this topic for quite some time now because of its close proximity to what I do on a daily basis--but my closesness to this (colleagues being directly involved in negotiations and lawsuits) have dissuaded me from commenting as well.

Perhaps I should just provide brief chronology-cluster of links. It's really confusing.

About 18 months ago, Google announced a plan called Google Print which would involve a partnership between Google and publishers who chose to opt-in by which titles would be reproduced online and therefore show up in general web searches. We sent whole shipments of books to Google, and I for one was intrigued and excited by Google's descriptions of huge rooms filled with machines, delicately turning the pages of books and snapping thousands of photos of the pages...very Borges!

Frustrated by the financial obligations had started to impose to increase search accuracy and placement of titles on search pages (you didn't know that a publisher had to pay to have their title appear at the top of a search on amazon, did you?), many publishers jumped on board, including some academic publishers. Google was leaving a lot of control to us--in addition to the page for the book linking back to the publisher's homepage and shopping cart, Google allowed publishers to reserve the right to pull books off the internet immediately if sales were falling or copyright was somehow compromised. On our side, my take is that Google Print was an acceptable venture because it did not compromise copyright.

I think this would have succeeded had Google not chosen to introduce a second tier to the Google Print program, called Google Library. Google Library forged relationships with prestigious university libraries...Stanford, Harvard, the University of put ENTIRE COLLECTIONS of copyrighted and uncopyrighted books online, independent of Google Print (and therefore bypassing control from the publishers).

While from their point of view this action was considered fair use...i.e., a deliberate violation of copyright in order to promote a greater good rather than in order to accumulate capital, from a publisher's stand-point, it was a blatant violation of copyright that would have a detrimental affect on a publisher's ability to control and make money off of a copyrighted work.

Suddenly, everyone was suing Google. The Author's Guild along with three authors filed suit against Google, alleging

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," Nick Taylor, president of the New York-based Authors Guild, said in a statement. "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 copied."
Considering that part of the mantle publishers see themselves wearing is as protector of an author's copyright, its not surprising that on October 19th the Association of American Publishers also filed suit against Google. According to AAP,
“The publishing industry is united behind this lawsuit against Google and united in the fight to defend their rights,” said AAP President and former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. “While authors and publishers know how useful Google's search engine can be and think the Print Library could be an excellent resource, the bottom line is that under its current plan Google is seeking to make millions of dollars by freeloading on the talent and property of authors and publishers."
As far as I know, the AAUP, to which I belong, has not filed suit, but is monitoring things closely and has released many statements on the matter. According to one AAUP member,
Most publishers have no problem with Google Print. We were all asked to
join, and our titles are there with our permission. And we were glad to

The lawsuits filed by the Author's Guild and the AAP publishers are
against the Google Library program. Google is claiming fair use for
digitizing our books held in the participating libraries, displaying
snippets, and providing the digital files to the libraries (which could
easily erode our income from these titles). The scanning in Google
Library is being done without our permission and so this is where the
controversy lies.

Google's response has been to halt the scanning of copyrighted works in the libraries they have agreements with.

The debate isn't so black and white between publishers and Google. Soft Skull Press, part of the Association of American Publishers, disagrees with their lawsuit against Google. Soft Skull's Richard Nash, as far as I can gather, opposes the greater harm this lawsuit does to the already damaged doctrine of fair use, a doctrine which is necessary to the survival of independent presses. I can certainly sympathize with this. And, if this post is an indication, not all authors are adverse to Google Print either.

I guess for me, the question comes down to why Google chose to institute a second arm of their Google Print program when the first phase seemed to be going well...publishers involved, copyright protected, authors assuaged. The sense within the industry is that even though many publishers jumped on board, Google wasn't satisfied. Given that they get a cut from books sold off Google Print, they'd only see financial gains on titles in print and under copyright. Allowing publishers to pick and choose which titles appear on the site would have stymied that. So, Google said 'fuck you' and decided to put the whole lot online.

I think about the way we humans in the developed world gather information, the way we think about books and the way we consume books. No one would sit and read A Thousand Plateaus page by page on a computer screen. But as cognitive faculties develop, that may not seem like a (literal) pain in the neck someday. And considering that web developers associated with the open-source firefox browser have already developed a greasemonkey script that allows one to override Google's image protection, it does raise the question of how secure Google's protection features are.

I hope to keep writing about this as it progresses.

'can i quit now' michael brown whined while katrina raged; welcome to cold war city; nintendo pumpkins; what's the best dive bar in the twin cities?

Posted by jason at November 3, 2024 12:41 PM
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