Farhad Manjoo Pops The Question [10:18 am]
At issue is copyright law: Does Google have the legal right to copy library books and make them searchable online? Trade groups for authors and publishers say no. In September, the Authors Guild, a professional society of more than 8,000 writers, filed suit against Google to stop the scanning project; in October, the Association of American Publishers, which represents large publishing houses, also sued. Both groups charge that Google, which does not plan to ask authors and publishers for permission before it scans their books, would engage in massive copyright infringement — and also cost the book industry a great deal of potential revenues — if it goes ahead with its effort.
Google insists that its project is legal, as it would only offer snippets — one or two sentences — of copyrighted works that publishers had not given the company permission to scan. It also argues that its plan would boost, not reduce, book sales, and would be a boon to the book industry. But its quest to bring books to the Web now looks certain to spark a major courtroom battle, and it’s a battle that Google, however deep its pockets and well-remunerated its lawyers, is not guaranteed to win.
“One of the great things about this conflict is it points out the absurdity of American copyright law,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar and copyright expert at New York University. [...]
[...] But if copyright law stands in the way of Google’s grand aim, isn’t it time we thought about changing the law? That’s the most salient question raised in the fight over Google’s effort to build a digital library. The company — and the host of other firms that will surely follow in its path — is poised to create a tool that could truly change the way we understand, and learn about, the world around us. A loss for Google would echo throughout the tech industry, dictating not just how we use technology to improve books but also how other media — movies, music, TV shows and even Web pages — are indexed online. Can we really afford to let content owners stand in the way of Google’s revolutionary idea?
[...] But whatever happens with Google’s venture, a more lasting outcome from this case may be a change in the way we think about how much control an author or publisher, musician or record label, filmmaker or studio, is allowed to exert over works they create — a question that has been cast into stark relief in the digital age.