Read it again, Sam: Google, copyright and our future?

Read the article at http://www.tnr.com/article/the-love-culture.

There has been a rage of attention to the recently revised proposal for a settlement by Google of a lawsuit brought against it by the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers (AAP). In 2004, Google launched the sort of project that only Internet idealists such as the entrepreneur and archivist Brewster Kahle had imagined: to scan eighteen million books, and make those books accessible on the Internet. How accessible depended upon the type of book. If the book was in the public domain, then Google would give you full access, and even permit you to download a digital copy of the book for free. If the book was presumptively under copyright, then at a minimum Google would grant “snippet access” to the work, meaning you could see a few lines around the words you searched, and then would be given information about where you could buy or borrow the book. But if the work was still in print, then publishers could authorize Google to make available as much of the book (beyond the snippets) as the publishers wanted.

The Authors Guild and AAP claimed that this plan violated copyright law. Their argument was simple and obvious–at least in the autistic sort of way that copyright law thinks about digital technology: when Google scanned the eighteen million books to build its index, it made a “copy” of them. For works still under copyright, the plaintiffs argued, this meant that Google needed permission from the copyright owner before that scan could occur. Never mind that Google scanned the works simply to index them; and never mind that it would never–without permission–distribute whole or even usable copies of the copyrighted works (except to the original libraries as replacements for lost physical copies). According to the plaintiffs, permission was vital, legally. Without it, Google was a pirate.”

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