Another lawsuit by old guard Luddites trying to stop the tides of technology from sweeping them away. Today’s New York Times reports that three authors are suing Google over its new Google Print project which will scan millions of books and make limited sections of them available on the web in much the way that Google Images catalgoues thumbnails of images displayed on websites.
This reminds me of the old joke about how many Jewish mother’s it takes to screw in a light bulb: “It’s allright, I’ll just sit here in the dark.” That’s what these three author geezers are saying in suing Google. They’d rather sit in the relative obscurity of their current situation than open the world and internet users to their work.
These authors see the world and their works through an old prism by which artistic works needed to be protected from old-fashioned types of infringement. But the author-geezers don’t understand the incredible tool they’re being offered by Google, which through Google Print will make more of the world aware of their works thereby increasing their book sales.
It’s the same with music filesharing: the record industry claims that it’s killing the music (and their profits). But the opposite is the case. For the groups and individual artists who really understand the internet and how to use it to increase the public’s awareness of their work, filesharing overall is a boon to their careers and income.
How can it hurt the poet Daniel Hoffman if instead of 1,000 people (if he’s lucky) buying a copy of his latest poetry collection, Google Print introduces a million people to small sections of his work and provides them a link to buy the entire work? Google’s offering Hoffman a gift and he’s looking the horse in the mouth instead.
My purpose here is not to sing Google’s praises. It is to sing the praises of the new technology as a tool for distributing art and ideas into hitherto unavailable realms. If we want poetry, fiction and other precious literary art forms to be liberated from the rarefied atmosphere of libraries and bookstores, then we have to embrace technology which can open new audiences to works of literature. How many teenagers or shut in elderly or poor people are going to go out and buy Hoffman’s work? But if it’s available in Google Print, then these people and millions more like them can find his work, get a taste for it and go out and buy it. What could be wrong with that?
One of the things these authors will have to prove in order to affirm copyright infringement is that the program will pose a financial injury to them. I just don’t see how they can prove this. If I can read 8 or 10% of your book (the maximum viewable) through Google Print how is that hurting you as an author? And actually the Google Print site says:
“For books that we have scanned from a library which are still in copyright (this would include all the works by the authors bringing this suit), you will only be able to view the bibliographic information and a few short sentences of text around your search term.”
So what’s their problem?
Various parties have sued Google over the Google Images program saying that those tiny thumbnails somehow infringe their copyrights. So far, the courts haven’t agreed. I hope they won’t agree with this suit either.
The one question I have with regard to Google Print’s claim that it is covered under fair use provisions is that it plans on selling ads as part of the program. I suppose one could argue that the books Google is digitizing will be the content which draws visitors (and hence advertising dollars) to the site. I wonder whether authors might claim that because Google is indirectly exploiting their works to sell advertising that this weakens Google’s fair use claim. I’m not a copyright lawyer and don’t know whether this issue is relevant to fair use and copyright claims. I’d be curious to find out though.
Wired.com has also editorialized in favor of Google’s position in this matter as has the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read here Google’s response to the lawsuit. The Author’s Guild, which is spearheading this lawsuit presents its argument here and its legal complaint here (courtesy of BoingBoing).