The other day I came across this article on my tech blogs: The Book Dead May Be Dead, But Google Is Still Right by Matthew Ingram. It got me thinking about censorship, fair use, and information on the internet in general.
For those that need a little background info:
Google also started scanning and indexing books that were under copyright, then offered authors and publishers the ability to “opt out” of the program and have their books removed… Others, however, said that scanning and indexing their books without explicit permission was wrong, and filed the lawsuits in 2005 that led to the agreement.
The crux of this argument is that scanning a book makes a copy of that book, and that copying is not permitted unless a copyright holder specifically agrees. The authors and publishers made this argument despite the fact that Google only ever shows a small fraction of a text when they display a book online.
Okay, so Google was supposedly “copying” the book in violation of copyright. But was this really a violation of copyright?
This is a ridiculous position, and always has been. Scanning something makes a copy of it in the same way that my viewing a web page makes a copy of it in the RAM of my computer — I’m surprised that authors and publishers haven’t tried to argue that this is secondary copyright infringement as well.
Keep in mind that Google did not “publish” the entirety of the copyrighted books anywhere. In most cases they had a preview or excerpt used in search capabilities.
I agree with Ingram that Google was in the right. Google did not violate copyright laws and was in accordance with fair use regulations.
All of this brings up some interesting questions. Who owns my blog? What about the writing in my blog? Could I sue someone for plagiarizing or borrowing from my blog? What about if they attribute a quote to me? Really it comes down to: who owns information and creativity? I think the big legal questions for the 21st century are going to be issues of intellectual property. With the expansion of the internet and the cloud, we have to redefine things like copyrights. Do they make sense for certain types of information, such as blogs? Do we all give up personal ownership for collective use? How does all this work. Am I violated some copyright issue by reprinting part of Ingram’s article? Does it matter if I attributed the words to him? Where are the lines? All of things need to be discussed. I don’t think any of us are going to progress by avoiding the questions or even going by the 20th century definitions. We are in a new world and need to discuss the new questions.