So Long and Thanks For All the Books

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Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article sheds some light on Google’s semi-surreptitious book scanning efforts. Google plans to scan every book in the world (minimum 32 million) to create a comprehensive Google Book Search tool that would provide references and quotations to the volumes in its database. The Company has been scanning every book currently in the public domain, plundering the libraries of major state and private universities like Michigan and Stanford. Recently, however, Google has been cut off from scanning books not in the public domain (copyrighted volumes) from private universities because they don’t want to get sued.
Publishers have a problem with Google’s scanning; namely, they aren’t getting any cash for it. The legal battle Google faces is over copyrighted books. 20% of all books are in the public domain and free to scan and reproduce, 10% are in print and under copyright, and most of the rest are under copyright but out of print or restricted in some other fashion.
Google’s argument is that Google Books is basically a glorified card catalogue, and will merely point to sources rather than produce them entirely upon search. The publisher’s argument is that Google is going to profit from such ‘pointing,’ so it better give a little slice to publishers/authors like any other such enterprise. The consensus among people in the dispute is that a settlement is likely. This will actually help Google, creating a significant cash barrier to entry in the electronic book compiling market. What is paper thin police tape to Google is an entire barricade to most other companies.
Google is not Wikipedia, and despite its desires to ‘not be evil,’ the $150bn megalith’s path toward owning all the written information on the planet, whether it’s merely a ‘portal’ or not, is a bit daunting. Where’s crippling bureaucracy when you need it, or at least something to make Google seem less like the ultra-efficient assimilation machine Borg and more like the rather bumbling Vogons?
Google’s Moon Shot – [New Yorker]

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