Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What the Google Books Decision Means For Book Lovers

Nothing.  That's what it really means.  Nothing.  The decision from Judge Chin, which you can read about here, means more for Google, publishers and authors than it does for readers. 

Google, by some accounts, wants to digitize every book in the world.  Now it wants the orphan books (books where the copyright holder cannot be located) at its disposal, a move I don't think is a bad thing.  All sorts of groups and people have issues with this, however.  Microsoft has objections.  Groups are worried about privacy.  The list goes on and on, but I can't help but think, "I don't know anyone who uses Google Books."

This lack of use by people I know doesn't mean people don't use it or that it isn't important.  I do actually believe Judge Chin's ruling is important in the long run as it brings up the issue of copyrights (always important to me) and fair use.  The idea of Google scanning millions of books to make snippets available to researchers (the ones who are going to use the most) is something that should be applauded.  Google, however, has had its share of run-ins with copyright issues, so any cry of "fair use" should be met with a grain of salt.  That said, making orphaned works available for research purposes is going to open up a world of knowledge for everyone. 

I randomly looked up Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction by Colin Ward.  What I got was well within reason without, I think, violating any copyright law.  That's not to say that will be the case every time.  I can see both sides to the argument, but I have to say that in this case it appeared that Google was within the fair use doctrine.

All of this is really material for lawyers, privacy rights advocates, publishers and authors.  I fall into the author and privacy rights categories, but I am also an avid reader.  When I think of what the judge's decision means for me and other readers, I can't help but think that Google Books wasn't a part of my life before, and this doesn't change anything.  Yes, it's great that it's there if I need it, but I just don't use it.  If Google is doing this, the books will still exist (for the most part at least -- books disappear every day).  I can still buy them.  People can still buy digital copies of them.  In order to be fair, if Google were allowed to pursue the orphaned works, anyone should be able to do the same, sort of like public domain works.  As a reader, this could actually benefit me as material that is hard to find now could be more easily obtained ... but how often do I even look for this stuff?  Only when I'm doing research.

The Google Books decision is fascinating in what it means for copyright and privacy issues, but holds little for readers ... at this point.  And lest anyone think all publishers are up in arms over Google's actions, remember: This decision blocked the settlement made between Google and publishers.  Publishers were a partner in this.

Obviously not everyone thinks Google is evil.

Disclaimer to make the FTC happy:  Clicking on my affiliate link and purchasing the book will gain me a small commission.  Clicking on the link about the judge's decision will enlighten you.


  1. Excellent commentary, sir! Being connected to a group of very engaged scholarly researchers, I haven't heard much opinion on what it means for people who are not part of the scholarly research community. Thanks for writing this, very interesting...

  2. There seem to be two camps. First, terrified academics who are afraid that if googlebooks goes away, their ability to track down resources will be significantly diminished (much, much easier to evaluate a book prior to library check-out or purchase if you have access to parts electronically). These folks don't seem too concerned about the copyright aspects of the argument, and are really focused on the fact that they're on the verge of losing a key component of their preliminary/investigative (and in some cases, primary) research.

    The other camp is comprised of authors that are pretty upset about either (1)not being consulted prior to Google's 'publication' of their intellectual property or (2)not being paid for the use of their material.

    The majority of the chatter is around "what the hell are we going to do?" For people that have access to the Harvard library system, the luxury of having access to most books in the world is comforting. For those without close geographic proximity to such a library, there's a much greater degree of anxiety.

    At some point, you have to wonder, "What would Tracy Morgan do?"