Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tome raider; Economist, 9/3/09

Economist; Tome raider:

A fuss over the internet search firm’s effort to build a huge digital library

"PAUL COURANT, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan, jokes that he also runs “an orphanage”. Among the books on his shelves are such seminal texts as “Blunder Out of China” and “The Appalachian Frontier: America’s First Surge Westward”, which are protected by copyrights belonging to people who cannot be found. Known as “orphan” books, such titles are one element of a controversial plan by Google, the world’s biggest internet company, to create a vast online library...

Opposition to the deal is brewing all around the world. On August 31st the German government filed a submission to the American court arguing that the agreement, which encompasses books by German authors published in the United States, would violate Germany’s copyright law. French publishers also claim the agreement will contravene laws in their homeland. They note that there are no plans for European representatives on the book-rights registry that would be set up under the deal to collect and distribute payments due to copyright owners. This has heightened suspicions that foreigners will be fleeced.

In Japan two noted writers have filed a complaint with local authorities about Google’s actions. Many American firms oppose the deal, including Microsoft and Yahoo!, two of Google’s big competitors, as well as Amazon, a big retailer of books in both paper and electronic form. Amazon argues that Congress, rather than Google and its allies, should decide how copyrights should be handled in the digital age.

Together with the Internet Archive, a non-profit organisation which runs a rival project to digitise libraries’ contents, these firms have formed a group called the Open Book Alliance to campaign against the agreement. A posting on the Alliance’s website claims that the agreement would create a monopoly in digital books that would inevitably lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers. Such complaints have attracted the attention of America’s Department of Justice, which is examining the agreement to see whether it is anti-competitive. It is due to send its findings to the court by September 18th."

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