Sunday, June 10, 2007

Two on Google Book Search

Two pieces of news related to Google’s book scanning project caught my attention.
The first relates to the agreement that Google reached with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which includes the University of Chicago and the 11 universities in the Big Ten athletic conference (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin, 11 on the big ten? somebody is in need of a mathematician there). CNN reports that Google will digitize select collections in each of those universities, comprising up to 10 million volumes, which the universities say that Google will scan and index materials complying with copyright law (I would suggest that the committee let Google say so), because the company generally makes available the full text of books in the public domain and limited portions of copyrighted books.
The other piece refers to the actions of Richard Charkin, Chief Executive of Macmillan Publishers (I have a contract with Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan to write/publish my textbook in Business Law), who took two laptops from Google’s stand at the Book Expo America. According to Charkin’s blog, his “justification for [that] appalling piece of criminal behaviour [can be found in that fact that Google] had not specifically told [him] not to steal it. If s/he had, [he] would not have done so. When s/he asked for its return, [he did so. It is exactly what Google expects publishers to expect and accept in respect to intellectual property.
'If you don't tell us we may not digitise something, we shall do so. But we do no evil. So if you tell us to desist we shall.'”
Both stories raise similar issues. While it is understandable and practical that Google gets some type of agreement to scan millions of books sitting on libraries’ shelves, from the Copyright point of view, if they are in the public domain the company does not need the agreement (still the agreement makes a lot of sense because otherwise if the copies are unique or rare, Google employees would have to register and borrow the books from the libraries). Then, with the “limited portion of copyrighted books”, which clearly refers to the doctrine of fair use, how much can be copied to not amount to infringement is a matter of fact that a court will have to decide. Furthermore, because Google Book Search will be available in every country with Internet, the material will also be available in jurisdictions where the doctrine of fair use does not exist, which could be understood as copyright infringement there.
The actions of Richard Charkin, technically a crime, exemplify with clarity the problems with Google’s argument that they can copy unless you ask them not to. In addition of the oddity of claiming that you have the right to infringe somebody’s rights or break the law unless expressly told not to do so, they know too much copyright law for me having to tell them that that is the function of copyright law: to tell you “do not copy”…
(keeping in line with the disclosures, this blog is provided for free by Google, and I personally don't understand how we could live before Google was created)

No comments: