Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm booking a seat for Google's battle to buy our literary heritage; Observer, 9/6/09

John Naughton via Observer; I'm booking a seat for Google's battle to buy our literary heritage:

"On the one hand, Google clearly has the capacity to make available everything that's ever been published in print - so that anyone with an internet connection can, in principle (and sometimes for a fee), read books otherwise buried in the collections of elite university libraries. And there's clearly a social benefit in that.

On the other hand, think of the downsides. A single commercial company will control much of our cultural heritage. Because it's a settlement based on a class action suit, it will give Google a uniquely privileged position in relation to "orphan" works - ie, those which are still in copyright but for which no owner can be located - which will not be enjoyed by anyone else. And thirdly, it will hand the power to determine access fees to a pair of unaccountable monopolies - Google and the digital rights registry. So it's deeply anti-competitive.

There is a simple remedy for much of this: a change in the law to reverse the fact that copyright infringement carries strict liability, which means that there is effectively no limit on damages. This is why so many orphan works remain effectively unavailable: people are too scared to make them available.

But changing copyright law takes aeons and Judge Chin has to decide now. I bet he has an interesting inbox. But I wouldn't want his job for all the IP in China."

No comments: