They come in peace

Media Guardian has a good roundup of the tussle between Google and book publishers. One tidbit therein affects us all if publishers’ complaints manage to set a precedent regarding the analysis vs. the display of content:

While books that are out of copyright are fully searchable, if a search request brings back information from a book under copyright, access is restricted. Users in the US, which has a “fair use” approach to copyright, get bibliographic data plus a few short sentences or “snippets” related to the search term. European users, however, get no more than the title of the book and its author.

The problem is that to compile the index Google uses for its search engine, it has to scan the entire book. Publishers claim this infringes copyright and want Google to ask permission for each book. The trouble is that only 20% or so of books are in print and because many titles are “orphaned” when publishers go out of business, finding out who to ask for permission could take years.

Extending this concept to the internet would mean search engines having to ask permission of the owner of a website before it could be included in an index, making search engines – the “atlases” of the internet – impossible to create.

The wise publishers are seeing that if their works and the ideas in them are not searchable, they’re not findable. One such wise publisher:

John Makinson, Penguin’s chief executive, believes digital publishing allows new sales wheezes such as selling books by the chapter or the page. He says: “The availability of traditional printed material in new formats and the emergence of new digital distribution channels is overwhelmingly positive for authors, for consumers and for us. Whenever the consumer is offered more choice … more content is sold.”

Convince your competitors, please, Mr. Makinson.

  • Ed Rusch

    You can already buy and sell content by the chapter via Amazon, if the publisher wants to make it available that way. The issue has nothing to do with Google.

    Stay away from writing about publishing, Jeffy — it’s a field you know nothing about, and all you do is look stupid.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    The real problem here is that, to use some computer lingo, copyright “doesn’t scale well”. Even if we grant the publishers the rights they claim vs. Google (I don’t) the problem is that the overhead cost of negotiation is much greater than the worth of the rights themselves.

    The current system provides a nice living to the IP bar and is a minor cost to big media players, but effectively locks others out.

  • Andy Freeman

    > Extending this concept to the internet would mean search engines having to ask permission of the owner of a website before it could be included in an index, making search engines – the “atlases” of the internet – impossible to create.

    Except that that’s not true. Legit search engines consult a site’s robot.txt (if it exists) before crawling and obey the directives iin that file about what they can and can’t look at.

    One could imagine a world where a missing robots.txt was interpreted as “ignore this site” instead of “everything on this site is fair game”. (Yes, there are sites whose robots.txt says “ignore this site”. There are even sites that ban some search engines and not others.)

  • Michael

    Uh, Jeff, while you’re busy praising John Makinson as some kind of renegade visionary, perhaps you overlooked that both Penguin and Pearson Education are parties to the AAP lawsuit against Google. (This is mentioned in the article, too.)

    It’s not just “publishers’ complaints”; the Authors Guild sued Google before the AAP did.

    And the problem isn’t just that Google “has to scan the entire book.” They “have” to scan the book, keep the full copy on their servers, and give a copy to the library whose copy they scanned. So if Google partners with Barnes & Noble, they can scan every book in the store, and they “have” to give a copy of each to BN. And if this is ruled “fair use,” then anyone can scan entire libraries and display search matches and snippets–and many will, and they will be a lot harder to police than Google.

    Publishers and authors have not explained themselves well to the public, but this is about a lot more than whether it’s neat to let Google make an index of some old books.

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  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Michael,
    Yes, thanks, it’s evident that he should teach himself.

    Eddie,
    Do you want to fight about whether today is Friday? Variety is the spice of life, man. You’re in a rut.