Timothy Lee reports that Association of American Publishers and Google have reached a tentative agreement with the courts regarding the class action lawsuit between the two. The point of the suit by the AAP was to stop Google form innovating and making books more useful on Google’s own terms. The terms of the settlement were negotiation in secrecy, and the voice of the public was left out. This is troubling on many levels.
The stodgy book publishing industry and copyright owners, who themselves recognize that their books are no longer commercially viable to reprint, are handed a solution by the courts to Google to once again see income generated. The real value publishers provide is in the act of publishing physical books. They could just use Google’s data to figure out what books to actually reprint, since this admittedly would not be a competence of the publishers. While the publishers have every right to assert a copyright claim on these works, they had no motivation commercialize since, to them, commercialization in mainly in print sales. If the publishers were not as short-sighted, focusing solely on the sale of new, scarce goods, they would have a their solution to make out-of-print books available digitally. However, this was a job for a company like Google to develop and create terms for. I trust Google much more than the courts and the AAP on how to make this knowledge available in a manner that is fair to all parties. Google bypasses inefficiencies, it does not prop them up unnecessarily. Most web publishers understand this, and allow search engines to scan and cache web content for this purpose, and without having to opt-in (only to opt out with robots.txt). Now, there is a double standard: one for content that is printed in a book and registered with the US Copyright Office, and another for html on the web. Why? Only because of the print industry’s lack of foresight. All web content automatically receives copyright (with the exception of license such as Creative Commons), without the need for bureaucracy. Google, will you pay me to cache this post?
Google will receive exclusive right to profit from orphaned works. This would seem to go against Google’s own motto: Do no evil. Google themselves should understand that creating an exclusive right for work that should either be entered into the public domain or to not allow competing services such as the defunct Microsoft book scanning program does not jibe with their own ethical compass. Google seeks only to win by meritocracy. Google search points to the better source, and most if the time it is not Google’s own content. Google wants competition. It should want to allow it to find the best interpretation or organization of orphaned works. For this reason, I could not imagine it sending DMCA nastygrama to sites that republish these works. Google would want to open the orphaned works to the general public and to any developer so that they may mine even more public value from it. There is now a Books and Interest Registry for copyright holders and publishers of any book to register their works so, they too can get a cut of Google profits on sales to orphaned book access. Now, anyone can receive this welfare, just write a book.
The settlement of this suit grant protection to foreign, non-US works, but if is a domestic work, it has to have been registered with the US Copyright Office. No doubt, this is to “live up to international treaties” at the cost US publishers’ convenience in comparison.
Lastly, Google will be providing works to libraries and selling book access (not downloads) to individuals, but with DMR. If and when the Google Book program is terminated, so will the access to purchased books be terminated too. While we have the technology to preserve writings for an eternity, short-term commercial interest seek to limit access to knowledge when it no longer suits them. And since Google will have the exclusive right, to orphaned works, these digitizations lost forever, or sold to another private party. We all know when happens when DRM servers are shut down. Digital media become less useful than real, physical media.
These terms are still modifiable, and the court will hear objections up until June 2009. But you have to wonder if Google’s own Dan Clancy has any objections to the monopoly that they will be unnecessarily granted. We all lose out, just because AAP does not want to spend resource to whack another questionable mole.
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