December 30, 2003

A Wrinkle on the Amazon Scan System [4:14 pm]

Via beSpacificAmazon page search alarms writers of cookbooks, references [pdf]

On Oct. 23, Amazon.com initiated a new function called “Search Inside the Book.” Launched in conjunction with publishers, the program allows customers to search every word of every page of about 120,000 books - including dozens of cookbooks. It has been called “the Google of books.”

Or, for cooks, a sort of Google meets Epicurious, the Web site that provides free recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet, among other food publications.

Though visitors to the Amazon site are limited to reading only 20 percent of any book included in “Search Inside the Book” (a restriction that would prohibit a reader from finishing a best-selling novel, for example), they could easily pull out a recipe from a cookbook.

[...] Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, an advocacy group for authors, has opposed the search function since its inception, describing it as a possible copyright infringement. Of particular relevance, Aiken explains, are reference-style books that contain a compact unit of marketable information on an individual page, such as cookbooks and travel books.

As those who’ve read Lessig’s Code know, you can’t copyright recipes, but you can copyright a book containing recipes. Similarly, you cannot copyright the data in an almanac, but you can copyright the almanac. And, depending on how you interpret the EU’s copyrighting of databases, it may well be that you can copyright data there, too.

Speaking as someone who’s gone to a bookstore to peruse cookbooks for ideas, was I really breaking the law? What about writing down a recipe from a library book? It seems to me that, once again, the seductive power of monopoly (awarded under copyright) is leading to nonsensical claims. Time to get back to that article on metaphor, methinks….

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