I’ve been on the fence on the Google Print and Google Library services, but I’m leaning toward Google’s side these days.
To summarize my understanding: Google Print is an electronic delivery system wherein Google is working hand in hand with publishers to secure rights for books that can generate advertising revenue for copyright holders, while Google Library is meant to be a searchable index of millions of books held in a few University libraries, with search “hits” limited to the book title and author and a few lines of text before and after the indexed passage. (Client and library science pro, Shirl Kennedy pointed me to this detailed legal overview written by Copyright lawyer Jonathan Band (it’s a pdf and it’s pro Google but worth reading).
And for more information, Tim O’Reilly wrote a compelling op-ed piece about the Author’s Guild suit for the NY Times this week, and he’s helpfully posted it to his site. Keep in mind that Tim’s position is in the minority among most publishers I’ve spoken to.
I don’t think that the dissenting publishers or authors are being knee jerk about this at all, and I totally understand their position about Google’s “opt-out” message (which displays a certain arrogance) but I think that in the long term the biggest challenge authors will face is being found and Google Library may be a boon for long OOP (out of print) books and information, becoming the sort of knowledge base the like of which we haven’t seen since the Alexandria Library.
The most salient concerns I’ve seen from the Guild and the APA are —
1) Google’s “opt out or else position” is the start of a slippery slope in copyright law. Once one company indexes all books what’s to stop others from doing the same, and the more of these we see the more likely it will be that someone will flout any pretense of fair use entirely, and
2) How safe is the data? How will Google protect these files from piracy? And what if a disaffected Google employee leaves the company with 200,000 book files (anonymous exec quoted in PW this week). How can Google protect publisher and author rights? I think this is a very relevant concern, and honestly, I don’t know if I would feel the same if Microsoft was indexing all of these books. I guess the question is how far can Google’s stated “Do No Evil” credo go?
There’s no doubt that the internet is changing everything, but frankly I am as concerned about how effectively Google and publishers track the advertising micropayments due their Google Print authors, as I am about whether indexing obscure or long OOP books at Google Library will negatively impact author’s rights and opportunities.
As an aside, a rep from Penn State University pubbed an opinion piece in Publishing Weekly this week that suggests that Google provide copies of their digital files of OOP books to publishers as one of the perks to the affected University publishers, without realizing perhaps that the vast majority of OOP books are owned by the authors, not the publishers. It seems that copyright arrogance cuts both ways.
I welcome any comments on this. I’m probably an oddball on this as an agent in taking a position different from the Author’s Guild, so please feel free to fire away.