Wednesday, September 21, 2005

For the good of humanity?

CBC news reports that Google is being sued by a group representing authors whose works are reportedly being reproduced illegally. Google has been working with various libraries to reproduce works online so as to allow internet searches. The texts themselves are not available in full, but short passages are made available as Google search results. The Library Project, as Google terms it, seems to allow much quicker access to information and literature; the class-action suit, however, feels that "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied." The authors can refuse to be a part, though it requires a form from them to Google. Okay, the question in all of this mess is simple: is Google wrong here? Is the overall project, a massive undertaking in conjunction with such academic libraries as Oxford and Harvard, misguided? Should Google take responsibility to digitize texts, or is it up to the authors 100%? My libertarian friend will argue that each person has a right to control his or her own property, but Google's action will ensure that thousands, if not millions, of texts will be preserved for, well, eternity, I guess. Are authors feeling threatened by the march of digital culture? Is the book itself in danger of fading away? Is Google, a massive corporation, doing this out of greed? What's the answer here?


Scott McC said...

Being the libertarian friend you are presumably mention in the post, I feel I need to comment here. First of all, the "greed" motive is irrelevant (as it usually is): the only way that greed can actually be turned into profits is by creating something that is valued by society. So we all win.

Now I do agree that protecting property rights (including the intellectual type) is vitally important. But from a strictly utilitarian perspective, is there a chance that if we remove the financial gain authors can get from writing, the number of books being written will decrease? My god, we'll be stuck reading a bunch of blogs all day.

I think it's a really cool project that will definitely benefit society (more information at a faster speed). But the authors, like musicians, deserve to have their property protected in some way. If they agree to put their work on it, great, and they should be free to charge Google to do so. The onus should be on Google, not the authors, to obtain permission to reproduce their work. If someone was photocopying your book and handing it out on street corners, they would be breaking the law, correct?

Scott McC said...

...that should read "mentioning"

Garry said...

Strictly speaking, I agree. You can't have wanton disregard for copyright laws, but it is a large project and presumeably well-known among the literary and publishing community. If an author or publisher feels so strongly so as to object, they can take the necessary steps. And to the best of my understanding, Google only reveals small sections of each text that contains the searched terms; they are well short of giving the entire text away for free. Oh, and yes, you are said friend.

Scott McC said...

well in that case, let the scanning begin!