Monday, February 27, 2006

The Latest on Google Book Search

This post is a little later than I'd planned. I got home from my critique group with my back aching. Too much time spent today sitting in front of the computer and then a whole evening in a chair at the meeting.

I decided to take an 11:00 PM walk around my block to work the kinks out. It was a beautiful night. Just enough light to be able to see to walk. Not enough light to interfere with star watching.

When I first moved into this neighborhood, I used to see coyotes on a pretty regular basis. However, civilization has been encroaching on their habitat. It's probably been six months since I've seen one.

Tonight, I turned a corner and stopped. Not ten feet away, a coyote was standing, watching me. He was standing so still I might have missed him except for the fact that his eyes glinted in the light from a corner streetlamp. He was about the size of a German Shepherd, but looked scarily dangerous.

I used to walk with my border collie, but she died last March. Now I walk with a thick walking stick. Fortunately, neither the coyote nor I was interested in a confrontation. I just kept going, but kept an eye on him. He never moved. It was both frightening and thrilling to be so close to wildlife.

As promised, tonight's blog is about Google's Book Search and the continuing struggle with two lawsuits filed against it by groups of authors and publishers.

Google's Book Search is not very different from Amazon's Search Inside program. It permits an Internet user to read approximately five pages of a specific book to gain a sense of what the book is about. Like Amazon, if the book is available for sale, Google provides access to information on how to buy the entire book.

Google has gotten crossways with the groups suing it because of Google's plan to scan all kinds of books for the Book Search program, without getting permission to do so ahead of time. This has raised issues of copyright.

I am not going to spend time going over all the details of this matter. I've blogged on it nearly a dozen times since October. If you're interested in all the nitty-gritty, here are the dates and titles of those posts:

10/20 Google is being sued again
10/27 Let's look at what Google is really talking about
11/4 Big days in publishing news
11/6 Another team is suiting up
11/11 More on the copyright issue
11/12 Even more on Google Print and copyrights
11/13 Copyright, copyright
11/19 Latest Google news
11/21 I'm not an apologist for Google--I swear
11/24 A unique perspective on Google's Library Project
12/11 Looking at copyrights from another angle

Last fall, two groups sued Google in Federal District Court in New York. Those cases have not come to trial yet. However, a recent court decision across the country in California may raise problems for Google.

Saturday's New York Times reported on a recent federal decision by Judge A. Howard Matz of the District Court for the Central District of California. In that case, the judge ruled that "Google's use of thumbnail-sized reproductions in its image search program violated the copyright of Perfect 10, a publisher of X-rated magazines and Web sites, because it undermined that company's ability to license those images for sale to mobile phone users." (NYT)

Google is already at a disadvantage. It's no accident that the two groups of publishers and authors suing it are doing so in New York. There have been precedents set in that court which might not be favorable to Google.

The California case is not a direct precedent for the Book Search lawsuits. However, the judge did make a statement that "the public benefits of Google's search engine does not necessarily outweigh the rights of copyright holders." (NYT)

Google is, of course, putting the best face on the decision. They insist that the Perfect 10 case will not impact the other services which Google offers.

It will be interesting to see if this decision makes Google more agreeable to a compromise regarding its original and wide-ranging plan for Book Search. Google is already battling the U.S. Justice Department with respect to privacy rights. They may decide that they are spending too many dollars in courtrooms.

As that New York court date approaches, we'll probably hear more.

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