Google Print debate should continue

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New York Times covers the Google Print debate.

I’m one of those that would like to see books searchable online. Whether Google should be doing it is another issue. For me, it’s something that the Library of Congress should be doing. We’d all benefit. But reality is that this isn’t going to happen.

Two key copyright issues are at play here: 1) displaying search results with a portion of copyrighted material being displayed and 2) scanning copyrighted material in order to convert it into a form that can be used for other purposes.

In terms of displaying copyrighted material in the search results, I imagine that a small enough portion of the text–or possibly nothing more than the title and a page number–could be displayed to settle this issue.

The second area of concern is in terms of a derivative use of the material. For existing industries the trend has been towards preventing derivative uses without the permission of the original owner. The Internet–and in particular search engines–have exploded because the derivative use issue was resolved differently and most of us agree that it’s acceptable for search engines to archive, index, and display copyrighted web content. (Although there are some that dispute this.) We’ll have to see who wins. The court’s will have to decide this one.

Thrown into all of this copyright argument is money–in particular, ad revenue. If there wasn’t so much of it going Google’s direction, I imagine most would care very little about the copyright side. I can’t blame the publishers for arguing that they should get a split, but I hope the trend goes the other way. I expect it won’t though.

No matter how it is resolved, what I’d really like to see is the discussion become more public. As a society I think we need to talk through the advantages and disadvantages of making our collective knowledge more accessible–even if some may not gain as much as they’d like. Maybe then, through the process of the discussion, we’d all decide that a searchable book repository is worthwhile. Or maybe then, the publishers would realize that if only they had all their books digitally ready right now, that they could make a mint selling search rights to Google, today.