As this issue of Linux Magazine goes to press, the brouhaha of the day is Google’s plan to convert a vast number of books to electronic form.
In one corner sits Google. Its ambitious plan would reduce the equivalent of a good-sized public library’s mysterious and voluminous card catalog and content to a few keystrokes.
In the opposing corner sits book publishers. Many publishers oppose Google’s plan because unauthorized reproduction is a clear violation of copyright. Google says publishers can” opt out” to omit a book. Publishers cry foul: it’s presumptuous of Google to invert such a fundamental privilege of copyright.
According to the letter of the law, the publishers are correct. Google may not reproduce a book in any way, shape, or form without the express permission of the copyright holder. After all, copyright literally began as” copy right” — the exclusive right to reproduce a particular work on a specific printing press and profit from the endeavor. Even in the modern world of MP3s, JPEGs, and PDFs, the same tenet applies: copying and exploiting a work is the sole right of the creator (author, painter, developer, and so on).
But that’s the rub: assuming that Google moves ahead with its plan (at the moment, the company has suspended scanning to take time to salve the worries of publishers) is Google making a commercial copy? Or put another way, is Google’s effort to digitize and index a book tantamount to piracy?
Certainly, Google will attempt to turn a profit from the indexing of the books. Like other search engines, Google’s stock-in-trade is indices of content.
On the other hand, Google isn’t taking profit away from the publisher, nor is it threatening to compete with the publisher.
So, yes, Google is making a commercial copy; but, no, I don’t think the company is engaging in piracy. Instead, Google is attempting to organize a morass of” offline” content much in the same way it’s organized online content. Traditional book publishers should replace” web site” with” book” in any of Google’s recent quarterly financial statements to recognize some of the possible benefits.
Perhaps ideally, the library system would undertake such a worthwhile endeavor. Libraries are impartial, serve the public good, and have the privileges required to create such an index under the letter of the law. Alternatively, each publisher could take on the effort and monetize a proprietary index accordingly.
Each instance is certainly achievable: buy computer equipment, scan the books, hire programmers and system administrators, entice consumers to visit the index, effectuate commerce, and return results. To save time and effort, you can buy a search appliance or partner with, say, a search engine provider to speed development and deployment and hence, the return on investment.
Obviously, creating commercial indices isn’t the usual province of a library or publisher. Perchance it’s better to leave it to Google. But isn’t that a” slippery slope”? Won’t turning a blind-eye to one” infringer” encourage ten more?
Gee, I hope so. Having multiple, competing indices of print material would be a boon for the entire human race. Publishers might even make a little extra money from such altruism.