Copyright laws and their place on the Internet have been the subject of fierce debate since Napster first came on the scene. But while the courts found music “sharing” was, in fact, “unauthorized copying,” Google Print seems to honor the copyright rather than exploit it.
Copyright laws provide copyright holders with a means to profit from their works. The copyright also allows for “fair use”: the ability, for instance, to take music from a purchased CD and put it on an MP3 player, to use a VCR to record a TV program, or to quote or excerpt printed or recorded material, as long as attribution is given and royalties are paid, where applicable.
We do not see how Googles efforts violate the fair-use principle. It seems that Google is attempting to do what libraries already do with the books they own, which is to create an index (a card catalog) that will let readers find information in a text. Using a card catalog is not robbing the author of any income—he or she has already been paid for the book by the library.
The same would hold true for Googles project and, at the same time, open up the texts to a much wider audience of readers and researchers. In addition, there is a registration process for users and an opt-out feature for owners of copyrighted material.
If Google Print is allowed to proceed, the litigants foresee a world of copyright chaos, where people will freely steal material and authors will no longer be paid, destroying the very fabric of society. This is obviously an extreme view, one that fails to see the opportunity that an index of more than 20 million books can offer. Rather than be hurt, book sales may increase due to their exposure in the index. In fact, such an index may even revive long-forgotten or out-of-print texts.
On the other side, if Google loses, its supporters say, the ruling could unravel the fabric of the Internet. What Google is proposing also is not unlike what Google, Yahoo or MSN already do on the Web. These search engines grab snippets of information to create an index so that they can direct users to the original material. Once there, the user can practice his or her own fair use, citing an author or a URL in exchange for the information.
If Google Print is restricted in any way, it does not seem too many steps away from inhibiting the way search engines do their jobs. The truth of the matter is that information on the Web wants to be found; it should be no different with printed material.
The case may set precedent, but we think Google Print should be allowed to proceed. Technology opens up new opportunities and constantly shifts the balance of power, and lawmakers should be open to rewriting the laws to reflect that dynamic to enable fairness to all parties—the users of information as well as its creators.
Tell us what you think at eWEEK@ziffdavis.com.