Google Print

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library books

This, Google-able? [Justin Braithwaite / Flickr]

Fair use is hard to explain. I know this because Jack Bernard, the attorney in charge of the Google project at the University of Michigan, walked me through it this afternoon. It took him forty-five minutes, and he started with a look at Title 17, Chapter 1, section 106 of the US Code. Jack’s point was that it’s easy to explain the concept of theft; people understand what’s going on if one man steals a sack of potatoes from another man. But intellectual property ISN’T a sack of potatoes, says Jack. It’s right there in the Constitution’s copyright and patent clause.

Jack had to explain this to me this afternoon because Google announced on November 3 that it would be scanning in public domain works — many from the University of Michigan’s library — and making them searchable. This is part of a larger Google project, one that plans to include copyrighted works, as well; there’s where the trouble begins. Members of the Authors Guild are unhappy about it; the Association of American Publishers is filing a lawsuit, and even some librarians are worried.

Do Google’s plans fall under fair use? Do we understand, as a nation, the distinctions between the rights of the readers and the rights of publishers and copyright holders? Should we be scared about the specter of Google, even if its intentions are now pure?

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication, NYU

Blogger, SIVACRACY.NET

Vaidhyanathan pronounces his own name (MP3)

Matthew Kirschenbaum

Assistant Professor of English, University of Maryland

Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities

Blogger, MGK

Karen Schneider

Librarian, Librarian’s Index to the Internet

Blogger, Free Range Librarian

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  • Ohmigod I can’t wait for this show. The thing that frustrates me is that everyone seems to think that we’re debating whether or not Google can produce e-books, when it’s not e-books they’re creating for us. They’re indexing books for us, so that we can do what a library catalogue does not to date let us do: keyword search within a book.

    At the moment, in lieu of keyword searching, we hand books over to cataloguers who determine the “aboutness” of the book (yes, that’s a technical term, “aboutness”), slap some subject headings on it, and let you search those rather than the content of the book itself. That’s as close as we could get at the time. Problems immediately arise: this system works great for academic monographs (books about a single topic). But what about multi-author volumes? Broad-reaching journals? Books of conference procedings? Collections of essays? These items get harder and harder to find as their topical units get smaller. To get a subject heading, a significant percentage of the book needs to be dedicated to it; to date, there are still books that you really would only find if you happen to know the right people who can clue you in.

    What Google is aiming to do is to treat books like they do the internet; scan to pick up the words you may be searching for, and then connect the user to the book they’re seeking.

    One of the things that’s hardest to classify and order is fiction. How can you subject-order fiction? Well, if fiction were scanned and keyword searchable, you could search through fiction by keyword or phrase. If we had a keyword search function, the way our libraries would look to us would be very different. We would have a more fluid ability to reorganize and reframe academic and literary canon.

    I’m scared some judge will slap Google down for this, and I’m hoping against hope that the opposite happens, because this kind of searching would be truly revolutionary. And copyright holders would just be getting a hell of a lot of free advertising.

  • Is Google really just planning to give you a list of titles when you search? Or are they planning to make the entire book available to read? I don’t see how there’s an intellectual property issue if they are just returning titles, or titles and blurbs. This difference should be easy to clarify.

    To the bigger question of intellectual property, I have long had an internal debate. How can one own a thought? An idea? If you consider the case of the 100th Monkey, you begin to understand that one cannot own these things.

    But our intellectual property laws don’t really exist because of this philosophical question. They are an economic question. If the greatest service you can offer to the greater community is your generation of ideas and/or your unique way of presenting them, then it may be in the community’s best interest to allow you to focus on that work. But we must pay the rent and buy food and clothing and medical care. Thus, we need to be paid for this work. Hence the concept of intellecutal propery, a way to create a marketable ‘product’ of this work and limit who can claim the proceeds.

    In other words, we, as a community, value this work. And as a market-based culture, we turn to the only thing we can think of to provide an income for this work. This solution is a double-edged sword for the creative thinker. A truly creative thinker likes to put ideas out there, see how they fare in the physical world, bounce them off other creative thinkers and hear the others’ ideas and see what new ideas are generated. The motivation is to continue to be creative. Not to control the product. In this system of a market-based economy, though, the creator has to become protective of the product in order to secure an income. And the general public loses free access to ideas that could be vital to social improvement. (I include art in the pool of creative ideas/expressions.)

    As someone who laments every day all the work I have to to in order to secure an income that impedes my ability to focus on writing, designing and brainstorming, I feel this dilemma viscerally. Like being a genie trapped in a bottle. You can only focus on your greater calling when someone rubs the lamp. Even then, you are forced to focus on that person’s wishes and then you’re back in the bottle again. Waiting for someone to rub the lamp who will set you free. But the holder of the lamp usually has to earn a living too, for he lives in the same market economy.

    So, when do we figure out that this system needs quite a bit of tweaking? Other systems aren’t necessarily evil. Our current veneration of the almighty dollar is looking a lot like aristocracy these days. You can’t count on human nature to balance the pursuit of the dollar when the pursuit of the dollar is defined as the key to survival. People have been talking about new economic indicators for decades now. Indicators that would measure economic success not just in dollars but also in health, contentment, social satisfaction, sense of safety, and a host of other things that make for a full, rich life. Not just production. If we were measuring these other aspects of life on a regular basis, these indicators might prompt us to make changes that purely ‘productive’ indicators never will. Until we move towards these ideals of economy, I don’t see how you can take intellectual property rights away from creators. How else would they survive and be able to provide us with their vital work?

    You ask about Google’s intentions? How can we really know? What is the definition of ‘pure’? They are a corporation. Now a public corporation. Their number one mandate, by law, is to make money for their shareholders. Unless they have received legal consent from all the shareholders to turnn away from that mandate, Google can only have the intention of making money. In the best light, they are doing so by providing a valuable service within the confines of the law. The law will be tested by lawsuits. The value of the service will be harder to assess because of the differing perspectives of those who stand to make money and those who might stand to lose money due to the service. Until the money measurement is taken out of the equation, there is no ability to make a pure assessment of the community value of intellectual property rights.

  • You might find this link useful. The most comprehensive and internation selection of pro- and con- contributors out there.

    http://www.googledebate.com

  • james

    What about Project Gutenberg which currently has 17,000 books online that are available for free.

    They added the books to the web because the copyright in the United States has expired and were in the public domain.

    Then there is another site called Internet Sacred Texts which has scanned religious and theological books and texts and pout them on the web. The owner of the site either used books whose copyright had expired or got the owners permission.

    These are just two that I know of.

    The legal side of Google using copyrighted books is for the lawyers to workout with the publishers but if you do a book search as well as just reading pages (Sometimes just selected pages) there are also links to buy the book you just searched at places such as Amazon.

    So there is a money making incentive for publishers who have their works scanned by Google.

    The whole debate is like when radio first started to play music over the air waves. There was an outcry that playing records on the radio would loose the record company’s money but instead increased their sales instead.

    On a side note at Google’s book search, on the page of the book I searched for it said “Copyrighted Material� down the right hand side which is ironic when they could also be seen as breaking it too.

  • edit

    hi guys it’s sam and I think this is amazing and are they getting sued for this I would love to hear this show.

  • mdhatter

    I am sure that academic libraries around the world would be glad to open their doors should Google be rebuffed in the US.

    Also you might consider the reports that Google has been buying up dormant fiber-optic cables, perhaps to launch a second ‘web’ with?

    I don’t know enough about either story to suggest a focus, but I am intrigued by a comany that aims not to be evil and warns shareholders about what they should and should not expect. A different, refined, calculated model, through and through.

  • james

    Perhaps we should be looking more at Google the company not just scanning books. Google is reshapping our lives from Gmail to Google Maps to Web Search to Blog Search to Web stats to Adsense to Blogger.

    Many talk about web 2.0 companies or movment but just think for a moment Google is the Web. Google does soemthing and the rest follow.

    Google does maps now yahoo does. People have even copied the actual search page itself making their own search pages simpler and more like Google’s.

    Google has redfined our apporach to the Internet from Bloggers using adsense adverts on their blogs as a source of revenue to web suferers finding new websites just through Google.

    So is Google the New Google or will there be others who will try and leap frog it.

  • bookscanner
  • I had a good discussion about Google Print on Richard Schwartz’s blog

    http://smokey.rhs.com/web/blog/poweroftheschwartz.nsf/d6plinks/RSCZ-6HFSTC

    I hope they win, I think they should win, but what matters is how they win. Nobody in the world knows if what they are doing is legal fair use. If they use the constitution then America will know it is legal in America. If they can avoid using the constitution and go entirely from Berne then the rest of the world will be able to offer competetive services. For example this sort of thing would fall within the scope of the charter of the BBC. Google are testing the waters, I hope they will be able to report that the water is fine and everyone can jump in.

  • kgs

    Google Dead Tree Search is one of the most marvelous things to come along in ages, and as a librarian and digital library manager it excites me to think that we are moving librarianship even closer to its best role, as information guide/navigator/broker, and away from curators of things. That said, I hope that the arrangements Google is making with the participating libraries and the methods in which it interprets and expresses fair use are serving the public well long term. I echo Allison’s concerns (also so eloquently stated by Siva) that Google is a company, with a bottom line ultimately intended to serve Google, not the public good. I also wonder about placing so many eggs in one digital basket. I balance this was the realization that the public sector has been too busy bombing Iraq and melting polar ice to focus on the goal of making information accessible on the scale that Google is doing. (As for Gorman, I’m relieved this blog is linking to a news article that points out Gorman, who serves as ALA president for exactly one year, is not representing the views of many librarians, let alone the American Library Association, which has not taken a stand one way or the other beyond long-held policies in favor of fair use, networked access to information, and equity of access. Most librarians would also not make those howlers of remarks Gorman is known for, such as Google being inefficient… say what you will, it isn’t THAT!)

  • kgs

    Btw, the focus of concern is neither public domain texts nor texts where the author has given permission (as I would do… please, find my work!). With the usual IANAL disclaimer, as I read it, the up-front legal concern are works out of copyright. Google wants “opt-out” copyright permission, while the AAP and others are saying that copyright permission should be “opt-in.” Google says obtaining permission is onerous and would make the project unaffordable, since many owners (authors and/or publishers) are hard to locate; AAP is saying that no longer requiring explicit permission to use a work would undermine copyright law. The argument is not whether copyrighted works will be fully available online to everyone, because, as I understand it, they won’t; for these works, unless we have the authority to view the works, we’ll only see snippets (and for reference works where snippets are the value of the work, not even that).

    My long-term concern is whether we find out in thirty years we have completely altered fair use as well as the concept of a public good. Right now, too many questions about the long-term arrangements are answered with, “well, if you aren’t allowed (are charged/require privacy invasions) to read the text online, you can always go to the X library and read it in paper.” Yet clearly the online text is presumed to be the default format of the future, and the paper copy a format of last resort. Remember that books now begin as digital objects and the paper book is something of a charming trope (albeit a trope that fits very nicely in my purse). Someday we’ll buy books online as a matter of course… if “buying,” and not renting by the minute, is what we’re allowed to do.

  • loki

    Great for google. Hopefully we will learn to tell the difference of G.Gordan Liddy to I Lewis Libby. Or is there a difference?

  • paulscary

    G.I.G.O (garbage in,garbage out)…the engine is only as good as it’s nature as a tool allows it to be,through it’s design and use.Toasters toast bread.Computers toast information.I’ve burned a LOT of toast!

  • Rob

    I love books. I love the smell and the feel of them. I also hate moving them, or trying to carry them on the train to work, and I’m prettymuch out of space for buying many new ones, even paperbacks. I do like being able to read a book on a PDA, though, since it always weighs the same whether it is a pamplet or the size of War and Peace.

    Having Google render searchable pages might be a wonderful resource if they can incorporate an advanced search function as their web search tool has. Then you might be able to find Dickens a little higher up on the list? That, and a downloadable (and here the format issues arise) version whether paid or not, could be useful for those without access to libraries. Not everyone can devote time to it due to reduced hours, or they simply don’t have a local library.

    That’s all I have time for.

    Love the show.

    Thanks,

    Rob

  • Jeez. All the whining [my page came up after the first X pages] is apparently blind to the spiders instructions who search for Google. I love Google, tho I have no axe to grind with them. They do not repair, design, and build amos for musicians, I guess.

    Link up with [get permission; this helps…] big sites, raise your viewd ranking by proxy. Stop complaining and get involved, notice a learning curve, hold on as you follow it and, well, learn.

    Google is not putting all the books online. A flash, a sample, is all.

    This is innovation, by a recent startup with the prescience to see what is possible to offer.

    who will offer what was whined about, often wrongly, during tonights show.

    Thats what I love about innovators. They are capable of listening.

  • I once went to the UCLA library and found some great books that the public couldn’t see without special permision. Would be nice to see to be able to see all the books in the world and not leave it to a few people that have access.

  • Potter

    Let ten thousand flowers bloom!

    And long live the public library! Especially for kids!!! In our little town here in central MA we are having trouble getting it together to put up a huge addition to our little library which began as a private lending institution in 1792 and grew into a public institution by the 1880’s. Today iit is the tiny library that it was a hundred years ago and it desperately needs updating. Will the town fight for it?

    Is the library essential anymore or a luxury today?

    I think a show devoted to libraries and how they are changing or have to change to survive, how important they are to us as a society would be a a great topic.

    Have Karen Schneider on again.

    I suppose I should post this in your suggestions for December.

  • tsackton

    Interesting show last night. I had two comments.

    First, the discussion of the role of libraries and librarians was fascinating. Like Potter, I think a show devoted to libraries, not just how they are changing, but exploring the interplay between private, automated ways of organizing information (web search, Google Print) and public, personal ways of organizing information (reference librarians) would be great. We increasingly turn to computers, instead of other people, to find what we are looking for — what are the consequences for society, for learning, for how we think about knowledge (I’m reminded of the classic Katharine Hepburn film “Desk Set”).

    My second comment is that, while I agree that we need to push the debate beyond Google vs. publishers, I have trouble with the argument that Google is the wrong entity to be scanning and indexing books. First of all, Google is only the most prominent of a large number of entities scanning books. Second, no one else was contemplating such a large scale, full-text searchable index before Google, so to say they are the wrong entity is to, in effect, say it shouldn’t have be done. Finally, why do we trust Google to index the web, but not to index books? For the web, we have only search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc) to tell us where to find information. For books, we have a whole host of other sources, including librarians — so why does it follow that Google using proprietary algorithms to index books is so much more dangerous than Google using proprietary algorithms to index the web? Or perhaps both are dangerous, and the task of indexing information should not be trusted to private companies at all? But then who will build the search engines, fight off the spammers, etc?

    I should say that I am not an uncritical Google defender, and I think that there are important criticisms that can be made, especially with regards to their privacy policy. But I do think some of the guests on your show (I guess Siva, in particular) tend to overstate the case with regards to the dangers.

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  • As the manager of “another” digital library project at Harvard (the Open Collections Program) I would like to present a different model for digitizing library materials. http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww We have been digitizing books, manuscripts, and photographs for a couple of years now, but we take a subject-based approach. We also organize the materials in the collection so that it is as useable as possible. Google can be great if you know what you are looking for, but it totally removed the ability to “browse” that libraries can be so wonderful for.

    We will never digitize as much as google, nor would we want to. But we take steps to make sure that what we digitize is faithful to the original and that it is of the highest quality possible.

    I completely agree with what Siva said about Google’s mission. They claim to be organizing the world’s information, but what they are really doing is indexing it. These are two very different practices.

  • tsackton

    I completely agree with what Siva said about Google’s mission. They claim to be organizing the world’s information, but what they are really doing is indexing it. These are two very different practices.

    Yes, they are two different practices. At the same time, both are clearly necessary and important resources, and Google’s attempts to extend their web index to the “dead tree” world, so to speak, does not have to be seen as a replacement for the organization that libraries and universities do. It would be disastrous if Google replaced libraries, but Google Book Search in addition to libraries is better than libraries alone.

  • kgs

    One wee issue: I didn’t say libraries were created during the social work movement, they just participated in it. But hey, that’s a small issue–the analogy was obviously what stuck with folks.

    cmadsen touched on something I tried to say during the program: Google Book Search ain’t the only game in town. Let me repeat some words and phrases that need to infiltrate the ideasphere: Open Content Alliance, RedLightGreen, Open Worldcat… there are many digitization projects going on, and some interesting tools that could work well with them. Google may want to be the only game in town, but they will only be if we let them. If they don’t drown out the competition, then they are but one project among many, and that’s a Good Thing. It’s the monopolistic nature of the program (and on my blog, Free Range Librarian, I have commented on how a GBS page for a copyrighted book doesn’t mention that the book is freely available in libraries–information readily available through RedLightGreen and Open Worldcat).

    Also, I’m so glad we got to talk about libraries on the radio. Siva’s comments were great and I only piggybacked on them, but there isn’t enough appreciation among the digirati for the role of the public information space. I really mean it when I say a search engine isn’t going to read a story to a child, teach an immigrant how to use Microsoft Office, or offer cozy armchairs and free wifi in a setting that is by the people, for the people.

    Additionally, librarians need to meet the world halfway. The libraries that think their job is to be 19th-century book depositories, and not to be information cathedrals, will die, and deservedly so. Library 2.0 is a discussion going on now about libraries responding to next-gen ideas of service. That would be a whole talk in itself.

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  • tsackton

    kgs’s comments above, about library 2.0, reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about: I’m intrigued by the possibilities offered by something like A9.com (Amazon’s search portal), which allows you to search a series of different databases, in various ways, from one portal. For example, you can search Amazon.com, the web (using Google, I think), IMDB.com, Wikipedia, as well as other things.

    I can imagine a portal like this, designed to truly search and organize the world’s books. Obviously part of it would rely on GBS, but it would also include links to libraries, to Amazon.com and other booksellers, to book reviewers, to blogs discussing that book, to Library of Congress catalog information — the possibilities are truly quite extensive. This sort of layered, value-added information, that would build on the foundation of GBS, but go well beyond it, is the sort of thing I imagine libraries providing. I guess I see what Google is doing is building a basic layer that can be built upon, analagous to the way that Google Maps has led to a whole host of useful, online mapping applications.

    Now, this does nothing to address concerns about privacy and stability — but still, I have to admit that I would like to see the conversation turn a bit more towards how to use this information and access that Google is generating in creative and transformative ways.

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