I've been interested in the Google Print vs. the Authors' Guild legal grumblings escapade for a few reasons. For one, I'm admittedly somewhat personally invested, as I've written a system that does a similar function, namely create, as Google is trying, concordances from digital texts. From another point of view, to some degree copyright has become less a tool to ensure works eventually pass back into the public domain -- ostensibly, and I tend to agree, for the good of the community at large -- and more of a tool for corporations to jostle for, well, larger hats o' money. If there's a winnable legal case for Google to be able to start scanning and get to digitizing, I hope they press the point. Even if it's illegal to put the goods online for now for books from 1924 and later, having the work started is going to be a big boon as publishers and other copyright holders opt in.
And there's the proverbial rub: Right now Google requires that copyright holders opt out of their program if they don't want to be included. So if your favorite self-published author is living in a cave and can't even spell "Google", Google plans to put his info online, at least in a searchable format. What's more, if an author wants to have control over concordances to their texts (is a conventional concordance allowed without copyright?) and, say, exclusively use some small business' concordance creation system that can insure that no user would ever be able the original back together from successive searches, well, Google will 800 lbs gorilla that right out of existence. (Do note: Google's example page, linked to below, is not a lossy process; the original could, in theory, afaict, be reconstructed, eventually, from multiple searches.) I'm not sure I agree with this, and I believe this is obviously the source of the Authors' Guild's concern. (see last paragraph for the obvious solution)
(Note that the Authors' Guild, iirc, might be the same schmoes who were against Amazon posting links to used copies of books alongside the pages where consumers could order new ones, to the point the AG threatened (?) legal action. Hint: If you don't want so many used books coming back to bite the third printing in the rear, don't release so many overpriced copies that aren't well-written enough for readers to keep in their library with the first printing. Even though it may not be obvious, you're competing with yourself. Amazon's not losing you money; you are. End [of that] rant.)
I like that Google uses, as a test page (screenshot here), a text copyrighted in 1924. If I understand correctly, this is the first year (perhaps second if I'm guilty of an "obo error") that US copyright is enforced. That is, a book copyrighted in 1923 is fair game to be used however you want. Books from 1924, along with Mickey Mouse, are still protected, and it seems like they will continue to be protected until the end of time, if coprorations keep Congress in their pocket as well as they have to this point. Having a 1924 example helps to illustrate just how innane the law is. Seriously, what's to be lost if True Stories of Pioneer Life is, at long last, unleased to the public domain? And look what's to gain!
Which brings us to the afore-advertised "obvious solution". Does Google understand how many books were printed before 1924? When they're done with Harvard et al's collection of pre-1924 texts, and only then, should they start functionally/practically worrying about challenges from publishers. Fight the battles in the courts now, sure, but until then I fully expect and hope Google will "do no evil", even "do the right thing" (cue Terminator X?), by scanning and digitizing what they are fully entitled to appropriate -- and, at the same time, show the public the power of their domain, so to speak. If Google can convince the people of the US (and elsewhere) the worth of books from the 20s and earlier, imagine how that lesson can be made to pay it forward. (Starting to feel like Hand Duet during his self-introduction with all the pop culture references here, though I, obviously, haven't even made a parodic appearance in them)
posted by ruffin
at 9/21/2005 09:02:00 AM