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.