As a bibliophile who loves old and odd books I think GooglePrint sounds marvelous. Students of all kinds of information should be welcoming such a development. The Association of American Publishers (AAP), on the other hand, is feeling threatened. Google has offered to remove any book at a publisher’s request but that hasn’t gone over well:
The AAP was insulted; its CEO, Pat Schroeder, announced, “Google’s procedure shifts the responsibility for preventing infringement to the copyright owner rather than the user, turning every principle of copyright law on its ear.”
Schroeder is right, but the Authors Guild and the AAP are wrong. Copyright law has been turned on its ear, but it’s not Google that did the turning; it’s the Internet. Nor is it Google that is exploiting this turn; that title goes to the Authors Guild and the AAP.
Indeed, their claims about Google represent the biggest landgrab in the history of the Internet, and if taken seriously, will chill a wide range of innovation. Because if the AAP is right, it’s not Google Print that’s illegal. The outlaw is Google itself – and Yahoo!, and MSN Search, and the Internet Archive, and every other technology that makes knowledge useful in a digital age.
Think about Google’s core business: It copies whatever content it finds on the Web and puts that content in an index. It doesn’t ask the copyright owner first, though it does exclude content if asked. Thus, Google wants to do for books exactly what it has always done for the Web. Why should one be illegal and the other different?
Google creates value – a lot of it – by indexing existing content. But when it comes to books, the content owners want a slice of that value – and who wouldn’t? No publisher ever said, “I’ll lose money on book sales, but I’ll make it up from Internet searches.” They therefore intone “grave misgivings” about copyright in order to demand a piece of the action: money. It’s an old technique (the Motion Picture Association of America famously tried it against Sony Betamax). But the inspiration is not copyright, it’s Tony Soprano.
I don’t understand why the people at the AAP can’t see the opportunity here. Somebody finds something of interest in an obscure old book. Word begins to ciculate about the work in question. Next thing you know, there’ a demand for a hard copy with up to date expert commentary and annotations.
Is this really so hard to see?