Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let's Look at What Google is Really Talking About

I just read another rant by a writer against the proposed Google Print Library Project. This soul spoke smugly of the injustice of Google making millions off the intellectual property of others.

Few things irritate me more than people who shoot their mouths off about something they don't understand. Does anyone really believe that the universities at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan--not to mention the venerable New York Public Library--would have agreed to participate in any program that violates copyright laws?

Google has repeatedly promised that it will not violate copyrights. On their blog, they said, "Google doesn't show even a single page to users who find copyrighted books through this program (unless the copyright holder gives us permission to show more). At most, we show only a brief snippet of text where their search term appears, along with basic bibliographic information and several links to online booksellers and libraries."

Now, just think for a minute. Let's say you're a writer who wrote the definitive book on how to cook pork. However, your book has been out of print for years. Then comes next summer, when consumers are avoiding beef (because of high cholesterol and mad cow) and avoiding chicken (because of the avian flu) in favor of the other white meat. A Google search of "pork recipes" turns up your book along with four lines of text with mention of a great recipe. In addition, a link sends the searcher to the only cookbook store that still carries copies of your book. Would you be glad or mad?

Last month, the Authors Guild filed a class action suit against Google. Last week, five publishing houses filed another lawsuit against Google. Two days ago, Wired News ( printed an article in which individual writers finally started speaking out, "arguing that the benefits of inclusion in the online database outweigh the drawbacks."

The Wired article quotes Ben Vershbow, who writes for the Institute for the Future of the Book. Vershbow supports Google, but says he can understand why publishers feel so threatened. "It is a paradigmatic shift of moving everything to digital . . . It's not just the web and print. It's all beginning to merge."

If you've been reading my blog this month, you know I've been writing columns about the cultural differences between an open source approach and a closed source (or proprietary) approach. The publishers and authors who are filing suit are following a traditional closed source approach while Google is advocating an open source approach.

As you think about it, which approach would you favor in this instance?

Just musing . . .

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