Dissecting Microsoft's copyright scrum with Google

Dissecting Microsoft's copyright scrum with Google

Summary: After reading the Microsoft associate general counsel Thomas Rubin's speech blasting Google over copyright you're really left wondering what the hubbub is about. Rubin is speaking to the Association of American Publisher's Annual Meeting and his comments have been portrayed as a Godzilla vs.

TOPICS: Google

After reading the Microsoft associate general counsel Thomas Rubin's speech blasting Google over copyright you're really left wondering what the hubbub is about.

Rubin is speaking to the Association of American Publisher's Annual Meeting and his comments have been portrayed as a Godzilla vs. King Kong type affair. After all we love conflict--especially the Google vs. Microsoft variety.

But once you cut through all the blogosphere chatter (Techmeme discussion) and read Rubin's speech you're left with the following items: 

  • A commercial for Microsoft's competing book search technology.
  • The blasting of Google over copyright. It's not like there's anything new here. The book industry has voiced these concerns for awhile.
  • Talk about the road ahead for publishing copyright issues. Guess which long term vision Rubin supports? Hint: Headquarters is in Redmond.

Here's a deeper look at those aforementioned items.

The commercial: Rubin talks about Microsoft's Publisher program, Live Search and .Net platforms. It also mentioned Times Reader--gotta get a Vista plug in there somewhere.

The flavor: "Another innovation that’s a personal favorite of mine is the British Library’s “Turning The Pages 2.0” technology. It was recently launched in late January and is built on Microsoft’s .NET 3.0 engine which is integrated into Windows Vista and also available as a separate download for Windows XP. This technology makes it possible for Internet users to view old texts that would not otherwise be accessible to the public, but in a way that highlights the richness of the original works."

The Google blasting: Well we knew this one was coming. If you're pitching a bunch of publishers it helps to take the high ground over copyright. Rubin paints Google in a corner.

The flavor: "To accomplish its book search goals, Google persuaded several libraries to give it unfettered access to their collections, both copyrighted and public domain works. It also entered into agreements with several publishers to acquire rights to certain of their copyrighted books. Despite such deals, in late 2004 Google basically turned its back on its partners. Concocting a novel “fair use” theory, Google bestowed upon itself the unilateral right to make entire copies of copyrighted books not covered by these publisher agreements without first obtaining the copyright holder’s permission.

Google’s chosen path would no doubt allow it to make more books searchable online more quickly and more cheaply than others, and in the short term this will benefit Google and its users. But the question is, at what long-term cost? In my view, Google has chosen the wrong path for the longer term, because it systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works. In doing so, it undermines critical incentives to create. This violates the second principle I mentioned. Google has also undertaken this path without any attempt to reach an agreement with affected publishers and authors before engaging in copying. This violates both the second and third principles.

Google defends its actions primarily by arguing that its unauthorized copying and future monetization of your books are protected as fair use.

To be sure, Microsoft has a long history of strong support for the fair use doctrine. In 2001, for instance, we were proud to author an amicus brief in The Wind Done Gone appeal in support of Houghton Mifflin’s argument that Alice Randall had made fair use of copyrighted material from Gone With the Wind. In the case of book search, however, suffice it to say that there are serious questions about the merits of Google’s fair use defense.

Rather than delve into this arcane legal issue, what we really should be asking is whether it would be possible for Google to provide its Book Search service in a way that respects copyright. The answer to this question is: of course there is. How am I so sure? Well, because we at Microsoft are doing it."

The road ahead: Rubin argues that there needs to be a way to lower transaction costs between online service providers and copyright owners, preserve Internet's reach, address orphan works issue and understand consumer expectations. Hard to argue with any of that.

The flavor on the orphan works issue: "We need to address the orphan works issue, an important issue that I have supported in testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Online providers should make diligent efforts to locate copyright owners, but when they cannot locate the owner, there must be a process or a safety net by which they can move forward without risk of liability beyond payment of a reasonable royalty if the copyright holder later makes herself known."

Add it up and you have a carefully orchestrated copyright grenade thrown at Google. And given the Microsoft and Google have competing book publishing technologies is that too surprising? 

Topic: Google

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  • That is true, Google is just making it a whole lot easier to find books,

    but you still have to buy the book once you know it has the type of content you are looking for. This actually HELPS the publisher sell books.
    • That's so true!!!

      I've bought more books due to online content and downloads.
  • Another thing, established publishers are scared to death of little guys

    being able to publish their books, and then people being able to find them via Google, and buy them. They want to control the access to information about books, so that you only buy from the established publishers, and authors must go through them to get books published.

    So, this is more about restricting the way that we can connect readers of books with the authors of the books. They want to make sure they remain in the middle and collect their percentage. The problem is, with the Internet, we need them less and less every day. Of course the publishers don't like that.
    • Not so sure about that

      With music you'd be right and with movies you'd be right but books are different.

      If buy a song online it can be just as good as the CD if they decide sell the music that way. Same with the movies. In both cases the content is easily accesable.

      Now with a book online it's a pain to read. If anything all the online book does make it easier for me to decide if I want to buy the book in print from the publisher or not. Having the book online promotes sale of books especially if the book is of technical type. Books of fiction and non-fiction benifit if I get sick of reading it online and decide to finally fork out the money to buy the print copy from a publisher. Books on a computer just aren't easy to read but they do help if one wants to cut and paste from the book for fair use types of tasks like pasting a quote out of a book in a book report so online books are good for that purpose.

      Online books that I have gotten both legally and questionably have driven me to buy more books than I would have normally. By questionable sites those are ones where I'm not sure if the downloads are legit. They very well may be as one site I downloaded some 30 online books and it seems everyone I start reading I end up buying. So I've bought 14 of them now. The site could be legit and if so the publishers are very clever because they really got me buying.
      • ah but the books don't have to be "online" only....

        authors can contract to have old fashioned paper & binding books manufactured too. They would still benefit from eliminating the publishing houses as a middle man (more profits directly to the author) and would consumers benefit by having more choices to purchase... not just those deemed "worthy" by the publishing houses.

        its really the same thing with the music industry... they just have DRM at their disposal to forestall the inevitable. The book industry has it also (ebooks), but it's just not as popular a form of media as the real thing (for all the reasons you mention above).

        These 3rd party middlemen, whether in the music or book industry, need to face facts... THEY ARE NO LONGER NECESSARY. As the mechanisms for publicizing and distributing creative works become easier, cheaper, and more readily available to the masses, the less the artists will be forced to depend on them.

        think about it... the only reason publishers came into existence in the first place was because the distribution of the works was exorbitantly expensive-- no artist, or very very few, could afford it. the stranglehold they developed on creativity by deciding what was "worthy" to publish was just a side "benefit".

        The handwriting is already on the wall-- its just a matter of time before they are left standing there alone and empty handed wondering what happened unless they reinvent a business model that works. The model of collecting a tax for distributing someone else's work is doomed.

        The massive amounts of money and effort they are pouring into DRM and legal battles fighting "piracy" and "copyright infringement" and other forms of distribution would be better spent developing a new business.
        • Print Expensive

          It's still prohibitively expensive for a loan author to have thier books printed. So what are they to do? They can still stick with online E-books with no printed version, I've seen this in several places on the web or they can goto a publisher who will take a gamble on book and have it printed for a large part of the profits. Online books can be usefull in convincing a publisher to print your book as it can show there is interest but it appear to me that someone with a lot of money is still need to do a print run. I don't know if you've ever had a book printed, it's not cheap. We did a print run of 30 books recently, a family cook book for a family re-union deal last year. It was $20 a book to print and we went cheap on the book, nothing fancy. Now think if this was for profit deal that's $20 just print the book now a 60% mark up to make a profit and cover the costs of delivery, internet and other business costs and that book would be worth $32. Would you pay $32 for a cook book? I doubt it when the average cook book sells for $10. What publisher would do is make large print run that reduces the cost per book to print then move the book through thier distribution channels. An independent can't do a large print run with out huge amount of capitol and the risk it very high if they do. I could see a method where a each successive small print run would get larger if the cost of small print runs were so high. only problem is they are high and that make it not cost effective to do. If a quality E-Book reader were ever to come about then this might change but I doubt it will ever happen. You don't need batteries to read paper back but you would with E-Book reader. I don't need additional components to read book. E-Books require that you buy a reader, laptop, PC, PDA, or what ever. I think you get the idea there.

          When it comes to music any musician can set up a proffessional studio for under $30,000 in thier own home. They can hire a sound engineer for relatively reasonable prices. The distribution on the net is a great avenue to get known. This works, the middle men aren't needed as a song is not prohibitively expensive to record anymore. The music Labels are in real danger of going extinct.

          Video is heading that way. There are tons of people in the business with the knowledge of how to make video content from crappy home video to actual quality productions. As the cost to produce comes down and it's doing that every year more and more quality productions will appear from independent producers. Those in Hollywood have good reason to fear this.
      • I don't think we need to connect online search with online books.

        People will buy normal printed books, after finding out about them through a Google search. The issue between online vs printed is another issue entirely.

        Though I still prefer printed books, my kids will probably prefer online books, since they are growing immersed in computers.

        But, that said, most online books are just printed books put online. Online books need to take advantage of all the things you can do when not constrained to the printed-on-paper paradigm.
  • Widespread digital versions of books will lead to less printed copies sold

    I read a lot of books. A while back I purchased a PDA with the express purpose of reading digital books. It is far from perfect but there are many advantages like being able to carry hundreds of books or not needing a nightlight. Publishers have resisted digital books for the same reason as the record labels are trying to restrict digital music. Once songs were easily available a multitude of devices were created to play these songs. This made buying CDs a poor choice for many (if not most) consumers. Unfortunately we haven't been able to remove the record labels from the process but there is no technical need for them anymore. The book publishers are scared to death of a similar situation happening to them. MIT has already created book sized devices to render digital content in a fashion that is very convenient. Tablet PCs are coming done in price everyday. It won't be long until obtaining and consuming books (legally and illegally) will be as easy as it is for songs today. The publishing industry is will have to evolve to survive. I'd personally like to see their role severely reduced as this will greatly reduce the barrier for new works to be generated. I'd much rather pay the author directly for the content that I consume.
    • Very true, this is all very disruptive for traditional publishers!!

      The fact that you can locate books not printed by major publishers, thus bypassing the "middle man", and the fact that in the future, books will not be printed at all!

      The successful publishers will embrace this, NOT fight it.
    • I read a lot of books in PDF format

      Also I read a lot of books through Web subscription services. I find they drive me nuts to read and I end up buying the printed copy.

      I find the fact that I need a reader for a fee to just read a book is too much. How many books can buy for the price of reader? Also I prefer not needing batteries.

      What I do like however is having the printed copy of the book as hardcopy and digital copy on my PC. It's handy to have it on the PC for searches and quick reference. Also for fair use you can copy quotes from book easily in PDF format. That's nice but when I'm reading I prefer the printed page.

      Here's what I'd like to see. I'd like to see a durable paper of sorts that can be easily erased and reprinted on for a limited cost. I'm thinking something that is not ink or anything but maybe a sheet that can be imprinted on and the pages form a book. Want a new book then you take the old on put it through the process to re-image the pages with new content erasing the old. If something like this were possible publishers would be doomed as there would be no need for them. I'd just download the book and run it through recycable book printer or read it on the computer, reader, pda or such.

      So much like how you have a i-pod to load and re-load music replacing the Diskman you have a book that is equivalent to any printed book but it can be reprinted quickly with any content you desire. Think of the news paper coming in, you print it off read they put it back into the printer for the next days delivery.

      That's the future I see.
      • The problem, is trying to re-produce paper books on-line. We need to think

        outside the box, and make on-line books that take advantage of being on-line. Simply translating printed books into PDF does not cut it. At the very least, you need to translate them into HTML.

        PDF is ONLY useful for printing.
  • The Google Conundrum

    Here's the deal -- If a court rules that Google does not have the right to scan and
    store copyrighted material in their computers for information searches, then they
    also would NOT have the right to store the entire World Wide Web on their
    computers, as they do now. In essence, Google's functionality (and every other
    web search engine) would be totally compromised. The internet would become
    totally useless. Of course, what Google would LIKE to do is settle out of court with
    the book publishers, because then any potential competitors would have to settle
    sepaartely themselves if they tried such a thing.

    On the one hand, BRAVO for Google for doing what they're doing, but shame on
    them as well for their sneaky legal tactics....:)

    And don't get me started on 'Orphan' works...the entire absurdity of current
    copyright law can be easily demonstrated by taking a hard look at those things.


    -=-Ron Evry-=-
    Creator of 'Mister Ron's Basement' Podcast on iTunes
  • M$ just wants to charge everyone

    M$ is of course totally different in their approach, they just consider everybody else's content to be theirs and it is only fair that every person on the planet pay a licence fee to M$ to use or distribute content. Write an email to your mother and that's content and you owe M$ a licence fee, your Mother reads your email and that's content and she owes them a licence fee.
    • You've Got The Picture!

      Rumor has it that Microsoft is working to develop a word-catcher. So when Bill or Steve or Tom says something it will catch the words and hold them captive until the listener has paid the Microsoft license to hear them.
      Ole Man
  • The Big Deal With Copyright and Patents

    When someone implements an invention, they should patent it so they can get a return on their investment, not patent it for a hundred years, sit on their behind the rest of their lives and get fat on the backs of everyone else.
    Same thing when someone writes a poem, a book, a news story, magazine article, or a little code (like Microsoft?). They should copyright it for a period long enough to collect a reasonable fee, not copyright it for a hundred years, and sit on their behinds the rest of their lives and sponge off everyone else who must work for a living.
    As soon as the author or inventor has recovered their cost, plus a reasonable profit, they should be FORCED to go to work and earn a living, like everyone else. Trouble is, we have a bunch of buzzards who are too lazy to work and think they should just live off the fat of the land because they invented (or more likely stole an invention), or wrote an article or a little code. And another bunch of buzzards that call themselves lawyers who are too lazy work and think they should just live off the fat of the land, plus steal most of what the first bunch of buzzards made. Oh!, wait a minute. The RIAA and MPAA (a bunch of jackals too lazy to work) already stole most of that, didn't they?
    Notice that all the miscreants are scavengers and too lazy to work.
    Ole Man