Sunday, August 13, 2006

BookSearch Back in the News

With Google announcing a partnership with the UC system to scan the books in its libraries this week, the WSJ offers another overview of the lawsuit and tension between Google and publishers. Here's an interesting bit I haven't heard before:
Digitizing all the world's books "was an idea of Sergey and Larry's from very early on," Wojcicki says. In fact, they were supposed to be working on a small library digitization project "when they wound up creating a search engine, which today we know as Google."
And there's also this, which is a good summary of the argument that if BookSearch is illegal, then all Internet search is likely legal as well:

ยท The Web search analogy: This gets a bit complicated, but it's crucial to understanding the dispute over Google's library scanning. Wojcicki, Smith, Gerber and Google attorney Alexander Macgillivray -- whom Smith calls "our thought leader" on intellectual property issues -- all insist that there's very little difference between the basic functioning of their Web search engine and Book Search.

The comparison goes like this:

To index the Web, Google first sends out software programs called "crawlers" that explore the online universe, link by link, making copies of every site they find -- just as Book Search makes a digital copy of every book it can lay its hands on. Web sites are protected by copyright, so if you don't want your site indexed by Google and its search brethren, you can "opt out," usually by employing a nifty technological watchdog (a file called robots.txt) that tells search engines to bug off.

Ditto for books, Google argues: Publishers and authors can opt out by informing Google that they don't want their books scanned and made searchable.

The analogy carries a risk for Google. Former Wired editor Kevin Kelly, one of the most influential journalists covering the digital revolution, sums it up this way: "If they capitulate on this with the publishers, they jeopardize their entire ability to search the Web."

Google executives don't sound worried. "No judge is going to rule that Web search is illegal," Macgillivray says. Still, they're on the horns of a dilemma. To use the Web analogy in court is on some level to bet the company, however favorable the odds.

No need to fret, say the publishers: The analogy fails in any case.

Most Web sites, they point out, are designed to be free. Books are not. As for the "opt out" requirement, as one high-ranking publishing executive explains it -- he doesn't want to be named; odds are he'll be dealing with Google in the future -- publishing houses have already installed a perfectly good, low-tech version of robots.txt.

"It's called a price," he says.

I suppose I'll start feeling bad about the publishers having to opt out of Google's project once they start shrinkwrapping every book so I can't flip it open and see if it deals with what I was looking for in a bookstore. "Books" certainly are not free; they cost money because they exist as physical objects. But ideas contained therein are a different matter. And so with the words themselves. Should a publisher or author be compensated for the fact that the word "greed" appears on page 21 of a book? Should that same person be compensated before allowing Google to share that information with me?

Most web sites are designed to be free, books are not.

Really? If so, then why?
View blog reactions

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home