[Marxism] Googling books

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 19 08:14:30 MST 2005

NY Times, November 19, 2005
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.

Rather, the parties agreed, information wants to be found.

But when it comes to how information will be found and who will share in 
the profits, the various sides remain far apart - not surprising, perhaps, 
since the issue has already landed in federal court.

Publishers and authors are suing Google over its Book Search program 
(formerly called Google Print), which lets users search for terms within 
volumes. Though users will see only a few lines of text related to the 
search term, Google is planning to digitize entire copyrighted works from 
the collections of three university libraries. The publishers and authors 
contend that without their approval, that is a violation of copyright laws.

The debate on Thursday, part of the "Live From the New York Public Library" 
program, was the first time the various parties had faced off publicly.

Allan Adler, a vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the 
Association of American Publishers, argued that Google's primary purpose in 
creating the Book Search service was to promote its arsenal of search 
engines, the main source of the company's $5 billion in expected revenues 
this year.

"We're talking about a pretty straightforward copyright scenario," Mr. 
Adler said. "If they are going to directly promote it through the use of 
valuable content, intellectual property created by others, those others 
should at least have the right to be able to have permission asked, if not 
to be able also to share in the revenue."

Google, however, maintains that it needs to scan a whole book for its 
search engine to work. Successful searches will return only three to five 
lines of text, which the company says constitutes a "fair use," allowed 
under copyright law.

David Drummond, Google's general counsel, said the company's service 
allowed users to find books that are in libraries but no longer in 
bookstores, and that would otherwise go undiscovered by most potential readers.

Mr. Adler and Nick Taylor, president of the Authors Guild, which is also 
suing Google, made several pointed references to Google's status as a 
for-profit company. "The issue here is indeed control," Mr. Taylor said. 
"It is the appropriation of material that they don't own for a purpose that 
is, however altruistic and lofty and wonderful, nevertheless a commercial 

Mr. Drummond replied to the criticism: "There's this notion it can't be a 
commercial use to be a fair use. That is wrong."

Mr. Adler of the publishers association also noted that while Google is 
currently making only one specified use of the material it copies, 
publishers and authors cannot be assured of the company's future plans. If 
Google is allowed to go down this path unfettered, he added, copyright 
holders will have no way to stop others who want to do the same thing, 
perhaps with greater financial harm to authors and publishers.

"I guess to us that suggests not much faith in the copyright law," Mr. 
Drummond said. "It seems to us, the moment anyone starts to do things that 
have an actual harm, copyright law is very well designed to deal with that. 
It is hard to understand exactly what is the harm."

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the 
university's Center for Internet and Society, also raised the question of 
harm. He drew a distinction between publishers and music companies, which 
in their Internet-related lawsuits were able to show that they were 
defending themselves against the losses caused by the illegal copying and 
sharing of music.

"What you want to do is to get a kind of revenue that right now you don't 
get at all," Professor Lessig said. "So it's about taking part of the value 
that's created here" by Google, "not about protecting yourself against 
losses as produced by this new technology."

Mr. Adler said Google's contention that its search program might somehow 
increase sales of books was speculation at best.

"When people make inquiries using Google's search engine and they come up 
with references to books, they are just as likely to come to this fine 
institution to look up those references as they are to buy them," he said, 
referring to the Public Library.

To which Google's Mr. Drummond replied, "Horrors."

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