Another Google Book Search Commentary Roundup

Andrew Raff
December 02, 2005

Here are the most interesting articles and podcasts about the Google Book Search and copyright law that have been published and posted since my last collection of links.

In Wired magazine, Lawrence Lessig discusses: Google's Tough Call: "Google wants to index content. Never in the history of copyright law would anyone have thought that you needed permission from a publisher to index a book's content. Imagine if a library needed consent to create a card catalog. But Google indexes by "copying." And since 1909, US copyright law has given copyright holders the exclusive right to control copies of their works. "Bingo!" say the content owners."

At the University of Chicago Faculty blog, Douglas Lichtman writes: Lessig, Google Print, and Movies: "How should we decide when a copyright holder is entitled to earn revenue from a new technology? Consider, for example, movies. If I make a movie based on your book, and my movie hurts sales of your book, I take it that it is easy to agree that I should have to share some of my movie revenue with you. The new technology in that case displaced sales of the old one, and the law likely should help to dampen that blow, in this case by requiring movie producers to license the work. But what if it were the case that movie sales did not at all diminish book sales?"

Brad DeLong puts an economist's spin on the debate: GooglePrint: "I tend to put on my right-wing public-choice hat here, and side with GooglePrint. The private beneficiaries from assigning too much of the value of innovation to the dead hand of old property rights are concentrated. The private beneficiaries of assigning too little of the value are diffuse. In a public-choice world ruled by lobbyists, there will be strong pressures on legislation and law to overprotect existing property."

In the Boston Globe, David Weinberger examines one of the potential advantages of having book content digitized: Crunching the Metadata: What Google Print really tells us about the future of books: "Despite the present focus on who owns the digitized content of books, the more critical battle for readers will be over how we manage the information about that content-information that's known technically as metadata."

At the MassLawBlog, Lee Gesmer discusses Google And The Digitization of The Planet’s Books: "I suspect that what’s really keeping the publishers and authors up nights is this question: who’s going to have control over this compilation of data? Sure, it’s “Do No Evil”-Google today, but who might have the resources to do the same thing, even on a smaller scale, in the future? And remember, the future is a long time. One can imagine the great-to-the-nth descendants of today’s publishers cursing their literary ancestors for allowing Google to take the first step down the slippery slope that leads, who knows where?"

Edward Wyatt covered the debated at the NYPL for the NY Times: Googling Literature: The Debate Goes Public: "If there was any point of agreement between publishers, authors and Google in a debate Thursday night over the giant Web company's program to digitize the collections of major libraries and allow users to search them online, it seemed to be this: Information does not necessarily want to be free."

Lawrence Lessig offers his take from the NYPL debate: the “discussion”: the morning after: "The AAP and AG say they believe in “fair use.” If that’s so, then they must believe that someone has a right to make money using fairly the work of others. If that’s so, then they must believe that someone has the right to fairly use the work of others without permission. And so if that’s so, then if Google Book Search is fair use. not only is Google doing nothing wrong. Google is, from the perspective of the authors and publishers, doing something extra nice — giving them the permission to opt out of the index."

The Progress and Freedom Foundation hosted another debate about Google Book Search: Gutenberg Meets Google. C-SPAN covered the debate and has video of the event.

PFF's Adam Theirer discusses some of the points raised there, in particular the law and economics evaluation: Google Print and Transaction Cost-Based Analysis for Fair Use Law: "I'm not going to go into all the issues at stake in this debate, but I did find it interesting the panel of legal experts speaking at the event spent so much time focusing on transaction costs, something we usually only hear about when the panel consists of a bunch of economists."

Evan Brown's Podcast for November 29, 2005 is the audio from a panel discussion at the John Marshall School of Law: "Professor Doris Long moderated the discussion. The first panelist to speak was professor Leslie Reis, who addressed various business issues pertaining to the Google Book Search model. Todd Flaming, a practicing attorney and adjunct professor at John Marshall spoke next on the technology behind the project. [Evan Brown] spoke next on the legal issues in the cases filed by the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers, focusing mainly on the fair use factors of copyright law… Professor David Sorkin compared the nature of indexing pages in Google Book Search with the process of indexing regular web pages. The final speaker was Tom Keefe, a reference librarian at the John Marshall Law School library, who gave a librarian's perspective on how Google Book Search could affect the future of research."

Rebecca Tushnet reports on a talk at George Mason University's Center for History and New Media about Google Book Search and similar projects: Massive Digitization Projects: "The speakers, Clifford Lynch (Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information) and attorney Jonathan Band, were engaging and informative; the audience seemed to be library-oriented rather than lawyer-packed."

Even if Google prevails in the lawsuits with publishers and authors in the US, European law does not have the same concept of fair use as American law: Google digitisation faces Euro legal challenge: "The American "fair use" law, which Google has used as a justification for its scanning of in-copyright material from libraries in America, is, Morris said, broader than its European equivalent, "fair dealing". Google is currently embroiled in lawsuits in the US with both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its actions."

Previously: Google Print and Fair Use, Google Print at the Public Library Publishers Sue Google, Too, Google, Publishers, Copies and "Being Evil".


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I just watched the video of the NYPL event last night. Worthwhile.

I am afraid you missed a very important contribution to the Google debate: my long essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It's available here:

I must say that this is being badly overblown by critics such as Vaidyanathan and others. There are certainly many things to be worried about in the world, but this indexing of large libraries to make books more accessible is not one of them.

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