Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Copyright Wars

Friday's Los Angeles Times (LAT) had some interesting tidbits about the upcoming copyright lawsuits facing Google.

Readers will recall that Google has been sued by groups of publishers and authors, demanding that the company stop its policy of copying books without permission. Google insists that, despite the copying of complete texts, their search engine does not permit the public to see more than "snippets" of the books.

According to the LAT, "Google Inc. will subpoena information from Yahoo, Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Inc. to help fight copyright lawsuits over its book-scanning project." Google has filed papers with the U.S. District Court in New York, requesting information on similar projects from its competitors. Google is asking for "book lists, costs, estimated sales, dealings with publishers and possible benefit or harm to copyright
owners . . . Google, which doesn't disclose how many books it has scanned, also wants to know the titles, authors, and copyright status of books already offered through competitor's book projects, the [court] documents said."

Not satisfied with this info, Google is also demanding data from HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Random House and the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Gosh, wonder why they need all that to defend themselves in a lawsuit?

Google has been the most aggressive in its book scanning initiative, taking the position that they would copy first and then expect authors and publishers who did not want to take part in the program to opt out. The spokeswoman for the AAP says the Association believes that current copyright law demands that Google get permission before copying.

Microsoft and Yahoo are part of a competing project called the Open Content Alliance (see my blog for November 6, 2005). An OCA spokesman said that their "plan is to scan as many out-of-print books as possible, then work up the chain toward books under copyright." Less than a week later, Google announced that they would concentrate the efforts of Google Print on books not under copyright to begin with.

Amazon's Search Inside program is configured a little differently. Search Inside permits users to see up to five pages of a book enrolled in the program. However, publishers must enroll in the program and submit the books they want included.

Some publishers are beginning to do their own digital copying, which permits them to control how much of their content they give to Amazon, permitting search of most of the books, but withholding essential pieces.

Unlike many writers, I do not share the fear of Google's copying program. See my blogs for October 27 and November 24, 2005 for more information on this. I am a huge fan of Amazon's Search Inside program and use it frequently to help me decide whether to purchase a book. The upside of a program like Google's or Amazon's is that books will remain available for purchase through POD technology long after they have been removed from bookstore shelves.

I anticipate both sides in these lawsuits will hammer out an accommodation that will permit the optimization of the written word in the new digital age.

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