Stop Google Books: World literature is not just another dataset

Stop Google Books: World literature is not just another dataset

Summary: British journalist Bill Thompson argues forcefully against the Google Books settlement. It would grant Google a perpetual monopoly over world literature. Those who won't digitize their own past are condemned to give it away to Google.


British journalist Bill Thompson nails the Google Books settlement exactly this morning:

[T]he fundamental problem is not that the settlement will give Google indemnity from prosecution should it be found to have scanned books that are in copyright without the copyright owner's position, nor even that it gives Google freedom to exploit scanned content commercially. It is, rather, that the settlement gives only Google these privileges, and places one company in a prime position to become the world's de facto librarian instead of encouraging open access, open standards and a plurality of services and service providers.

The world is being digitized at a furious rate. Indeed, we are at an "inflection point," Thompson says, after which the world will be fundamentally different. In the U.S., we have a long history of handing public resources over to private monopolists. Think railroads. Think mining. Think television. Think FCC spectrum auctions.

When they decided to give CBS and NBC duopoly rights over the airwaves, that was a decision that determined the path of media, of journalism, of entertainment, of education, of child development for decades and decades. And that was just air.

We are talking here of books, of centuries of ideas, expresssion, philosophy, fantasy, the heights of human knowledge and the most trivial of entertainments. And this massive hand-off to a company that would dominate not just one resource, such as broadcast spectrum, but the entire wired and wireless Internet. And it would be done not through a high-level policy consideration of the public value in having private companies develop a resource but through a privately negotiated settlement between the monopolist and a group (the US Authors Guild) representing a tiny proportion of authors, and a publishers association.

George Santayana wrote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but it may also be true that those who do not care to digitise their own past will end up paying a high price to regain what they give up so thoughtlessly.

If we let Google have its settlement we will all be the poorer. Not for a while, perhaps, but one day we will need more from this new library of Alexandria than Google is willing to offer, and find that the price it demands is more than we can pay.

Topics: Legal, Enterprise Software, Google

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  • Big brother 2.0

    Nothing like 1 source stop for Big Brother, whats next Obama monitoring network...

    • And now for something else completely useless

  • Google uses Open Source

    but does not wish to participate in being Open Source.

    Google is happy for us to share things we have with them, they just do not like the idea of having that work the other way around.
    • Chrome

      I'm running an open source web browser right now,
      developed by Google.
  • The alternatives

    The alternatives are:

    1. Government run scanning program
    2. Other private run scanning program
    3. Nothing

    What do you all propose?
    • Everyone can scan

      It's not about the scanning program. It's about
      the legal monopoly that is created and the
      wildly high barrier that creates for everyone
      else. The government is scanning. Google is
      scanning. The Archive is scanning. That's fine.
      But no one (but Google) is scanning books that
      aren't free-and-clear on copyright, or for
      which licensing can be had.

      Google went ahead and disregarded copyright and
      instead of fighting their right to do so out in
      court, which conceivably could have carved out
      some general right to scan orphan works without
      prior ok (although there would certainly be a
      risk of failure in that option), they cut
      themselves an exception to copyright law and
      they cut it with groups that don't even
      represent most of the creators or copyright
      holders involved.

      I propose we make some changes to copyright law
      that allow many entities to scan orphan works
      without fear. The Registry may be an excellent
      idea, but it can't be for the sole benefit of
  • Let the games begin

    Let's stand around discussing standards for 10 or 20 years while the world passes by. Let Google prove it works. It's their money and their risk to take. When it's all said and done, the rights they have been given will be available to others at some point. In the meantime, we can see the business model in action and create the standards from real-world experience, rather than a bunch of acedemics postulating on a model.
    • Standards don't take 20 years

      There's no reason for standards to take that long
      They only take that long when industry players
      all spend years developing and marketing their
      own individual proprietary standards until the
      marketplace feels such pain that the players
      agree to settle on something else.

      What audio format do you like? Mp3 anyone?
  • You can't scan! Umm, wait! You _can_ scan, but so can everybody!

    When Google started scanning books some years back, there were
    reports of an outcry from authors and publishers.
    Today, as Google appears to want special treatment, the cry is for
    equal treatment under the scanner.

    But I suspect that the entire special treatment arrangement is a
    ploy by Google to get many more authors on its
    side regarding the _original_ goal: the mass scanning of books.

    Seriously, does Google really want a monopoly, followed by 5+
    years of court cases, the staining of its brand, and eventually the
    taking down of the monopoly anyway?

    Or does Google just want to resolve the mass scanning issue,
    with a clear set of rules, and is forcing the issue by pretending to
    step over _another_ line and thereby get enough attention on the
    mass scanning issue to allow formalization?

    Google is run by very smart folks, remember. (And since I'm not as
    smart, I'm probably wrong in my breakdown here, but maybe a bit
  • Stop Books???


    Back in the day [and today] there were [and are] such things called 'Libraries'. In such places one could 'check out' and [perish the thought] READ books WITHOUT paying for them or "putting the dime in the jar" for some copyright 'fee' - music was also available.

    There was nothing to stop myself or others from reading books or making tapes of albums we were able to easily 'check out' and take home to copy and give them to all our friends and nobody said a word about it.

    The only things that have changed in the 'digital age' is that it's easier, faster, and more widespread now not to mention that people can do it from the comfort of their own homes.

    So what has really changed?
    • What's different?

      A. What you did was a copyright violation. It was illegal.

      B. If someone did it on a mass scale, they would have been sued, unless the works in question were public domain.

      C. Someone could have done a nice business in copying public domain works, but if they tried to get prior permission for some works they would have had a hard time finding many of the copyright holders.

      D. If that someone then said, I will just copy everything and when I get sued, I will pay a nice fat check to settle my right to copy these things without individually licensing each work.

      E. I will then have a competitive advantage since everyone else is afraid of getting sued and no one else will be a party to this settlement.

      So really what's different?
      • What's different?

        Apparently your level of reading comprehension. That was silly.
      • It probably wasn't a copyright violation.

        As no sales were lost, there was no copyright violation. At least that's the way SCOTUS views copyright.

        Of course it's a moot point since he said "There was nothing to stop myself or others..." That implies that it could have been done, not that it had been done.
  • RE: Stop Google Books: World literature is not just another dataset

    Good article, Richard. I've been wishing I could wrap up the situation in that few a number of words for some time now and you IMO managed to do it. Glad you wrote it; makes a lot of sense and is logical to boot.