Monday, June 22, 2009

How Good (or Not Evil) Is Google?; New York Times, 6/22/09

David Carr via New York Times; How Good (or Not Evil) Is Google?:

"Among other adventures, Google’s motives were called into question after it scanned in millions of books without permission, prompting the Authors Guild and publishers to file a class-action suit. The proposed $125 million settlement will lead to a book registry financed by Google and a huge online archive of mostly obscure books, searched and served up by Google.

So is that a big win for a culture that increasingly reads on screen — or a land grab of America’s most precious intellectual property?..

"Google is, broadly, the Wal-Mart of the Internet, a huge force that can set terms and price — in this case free — except Google is not selling hammers and CDs, it is operating at the vanguard of intellectual property...

But others, like the Justice Department and a number of state attorneys general, have taken an acute interest in the proposed book settlement that Google negotiated over its right to scan millions of books, many of them out of print. Revenue will be split with any known holders of the copyright, but it is the company’s dominion over so-called orphan works that has intellectual property rights advocates livid.

It’s disgusting,” said Peter Brantley, director of access for the Internet Archive, which has been scanning books as well. “We all share the general goal of getting more books online, but the class-action settlement gives them a release of any claims of infringement in using those works. For them to say that is not a barrier to entry for other people who might scan in those works is a crock.”

The scanned book project is certainly consistent with the company’s mission, which is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

What I think is great about books is that people just don’t go to libraries that much, but they are in front of the computer all day,” Mr. [Eric] Schmidt [Google's chief executive] said. “And now they have access. If you are sitting and trying to finish a term paper at 2 in the morning, Google Books saved your rear end. That is a really oh-my-God kind of change.”

The government has not yet made this argument — filings are due in the case in September — but others have pointed out that Google has something of a monopoly because the company went ahead and scanned seven million books without permission.To be very precise, we did not require permission to make those copies,” Mr. Schmidt said, suggesting that by scanning and making just a portion of those works available, the company was well within the provisions of fair use.

In a later meeting, Mr. [Sergey] Brin [Google's co-founder] waved his hand when it was suggested that the company’s decision to scan books and then reach a settlement had created a barrier to entry for others. (Google also has a separate commercial initiative to work with publishers to sell more current works.)

“I didn’t see anyone lining up to scan books when we did it, or even now,” Mr. Brin said. “Some of them are motivated by near-term business disputes, and they don’t see this as an achievement for humanity.”"

No comments: