Google Defends Self On Blog

I have to say, this post – defending Google's position on Google Print against yesterday's lawsuit – is damn refreshing. Google makes its case clearly, and the writing seems to be driven by conviction and passion. The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library…

I have to say, this post – defending Google’s position on Google Print against yesterday’s lawsuit – is damn refreshing. Google makes its case clearly, and the writing seems to be driven by conviction and passion.

The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library Project is fully consistent with both the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law itself, which allow everything from parodies to excerpts in book reviews. (Here’s an article by one of the many legal scholars who have weighed in on Google Print.)

Just as Google helps you find sites you might not have found any other way by indexing the full text of web pages, Google Print, like an electronic card catalog, indexes book content to help users find, and perhaps buy, books. This ability to introduce millions of users to millions of titles can only expand the market for authors’ books, which is precisely what copyright law is intended to foster.

19 thoughts on “Google Defends Self On Blog”

  1. John, as an author and publisher, what’s your personal take on the copyright issues raised by Google Print? Is it really fair use? Is opt-out sufficient?

    And will we be seeing “The Search” indexed on Google Print any time soon?

  2. Great for Google, so a) have them pay to scan the books, and b) share in the advertising revenue. Google is going to make big dollars on this feature, so Google should pay for the copyright ability to scan the books AND share the advertising revenue with the publishers. The current proposal of allowing the publishers to make money from the referrals Google triggers (which is the much smaller revenue stream compared to advertising), leaves a lot to be desired. Google is being secretly greedy here under the guise of doing good.

  3. John,

    I was really surprised to see this post in the Google blog – they normally just use it for formal announcements or slightly-corny “personal” stories which are supposedly related to the development of a Google product. But this post feels genuine – it’s also very brave.

  4. Bud, no way. In order for Google to violate copyright they’d have to distribute the book. They’re not even coming close to doing that. And the idea that they should spread the wealth they will make is completely spurious. They have no obligation to this industry group for their good idea.

    The publishing industry is free to put together their own database, but suing Google for their creation is foolhardy. Its just another attempt by a trade organization to strong-arm *the consumers* into their antiquated business model. They will lose.

  5. It’s so sad to see misguided ‘content organizations’ fighting against progress… especially progress that ultimately benefits them. Valenti’s assinine “Boston Strangler” quote comes to mind, in which the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America insisted that the VCR would kill off the movie industry.

    And Google Print isn’t even showing anything near full length texts. Not chapters, not even multiple paragraphs. It is, absolutely, undeniably fair use. Alas, that doesn’t mean that some hyper-clueless judge won’t rule against Google, however.

    Lastly, I agree with other posters here and around the net that have offered kudos on the recent Google blog post. Just when I’m ready to give up hope on the thing, along comes a substantive, passionate, interesting entry 🙂

  6. Good afternoon, John.
    Picked up your new book at my local Borders a couple of days ago. What a great read!

    Given your industry backround, knowledge, and experience, I thought you and your readers might like to take a look at what could reasonably be called the 2nd coming of GoTo…MatchTo (.com).

    For ease of review, complete information on this new multigraphics (geo, demo, psycho) based bid-for-position, PPC advertising system may be found in the white paper posted at

    I think you’ll like what you see.


  7. John, I have to say I find the approach of Google – and your support – woefully naive.

    Copyright protections do not simply extend to distribution but also to storage, and storage of digital copies of a copyrighted right without prior permission can be a copyright offence.

    If you really want another company to simply scrape your book and put AdSense on it and call that a branding exercise, then you are more than welcome to make that decision.

    However, expecting that other writers should think it a good idea to turnh their works into nothing more than scraper content for advertising is really not very considerate.

    I’ve compiled a few links you may find helpful here:

    There are better ways that Google can approach this issue, but so far they don’t seem to have taken into consideration anything but their own interests at heart.

  8. Brian has pointed out where the authors and publishers are hanging their hat. They know they can’t win the fair-use argument. So they’re following in the footsteps of the RIAA and saying that just the act of copying violates their copyright.

    This is a huge change from how I have understood copyright to work. You are free to copy anything for personal use or preparation for fair-use (hence the Betamax case), but the minute you try and sell it commercially you’re in trouble, unless it falls under the fair-use clause.

    So it seems to me that a smart judge will be able to understand that preventing copying in the first place restricts fair use. Unfortunately we’ve been plagued by a series of judges who are either less smart or unaware of the parallels and have allowed copyright holders to place DRM in the way of legitimate fair-use. Can we get someone on the bench who actually uses bit.torrent?

    Now… for some reason I’m reminded of William Gibson’s Agrippa (with art by Dennis Ashbaugh). That most famous collection of art and poems which was written in slowly fading ink and published on a floppy disk that encrypted itself after the first reading. Even that was not unbreakable, someone just transcribed Penn Jillette’s reading of the poem and I was able to present a copy of it, unencrypted, to Gibson at a book signing.

  9. Technically Google Print does seem to fit within “fair use” doctrine, and so Google may well win the case. But what arrogance on Google’s part: rather than engage with the authors and persuade to partner with Google Print, Google have just put it out there. That authors then have to go to the site and remove their works, rather than Google actively seeking prior permission prior, just adds insult to injury.

    If Google is going to grow up, and consistently do no evil, it is going to have to learn that even a technologically brilliant, logically sound, argument does not always work. People need to be consulted, reassured about change and stroked a little bit. But that is time-consuming, it requires interacting with people (rather than technology) and it means looking for compromise. All things that mature companies know they have to do. Google seems to think it is different, and doesn’t need to behave the same way – it resembles a really bright teenager who just cannot understand why the grown-ups won’t go along with its latest whizz.

  10. The only problem with your analogy is that the Authors’ Guild is the teenager and Google is the grown-up trying to teach them how to share.

    Why ask when you know the answer is no? Asking permission for something they feel is perfectly legal would only serve to further weaken our fair use rights. I’m glad to see Google using some muscle here.

  11. Chris: did Google (or AltaVista or any other search engine that came before) ask each and every Website owner before indexing their copyrighted material? No, because it’s impractical. Instead, they respect the “opt-out” of robots.txt. Assuming that Google really does let the copyright owner of a book opt-out, why should books be handled differently than Web sites? Based on the facts reported, the lawsuit looks completely without merit.

  12. As an experiment, last year I tried to see if I could finish a bioinformatics course just by reading the textbook on Search-Inside-The-Book. It was transparently easy. I only needed a few pages, and a search or two was enough to view all the pages that were relevant. Google’s book search looks similar, possibly with less ID-checking.

    The fact is that the “indexing only” defense doesn’t necessarily work out in the real world. Most index structures encode a major portion of the work being indexed, and the phrase “self index” has even been coined to describe those which contain an exact, byte-for-byte copy. It’s virtually impossible to keep the content from being scraped and knit together by creative clients.

    True, Google is making some effort to protect the works, but these measures can amount to little more than the laughable DRM schemes that Hollywood keeps trying to shove onto the market.

  13. I wonder if anyone will bother to sit down and read a book once Google has indexed them all? Or will we all be so busy checking cross-references that it won’t matter anymore?

  14. “This is a huge change from how I have understood copyright to work. ”

    The issue was really changed by the introduction of electronic rights, which is effectively an extension of copyright to digital applications.

    So far as I understand it. I’m not a lawyer, just an aspiring writer, and electronic issues have been a hot issue for years.

  15. If Google has no hidden agenda then why don’t they just make their legal agreement with the libraries public. Which let everyone see clearly what’s in it for Google.

  16. “This ability to introduce millions of users to millions of titles can only expand the market for authors’ books”

    The down side of this is it will also expand the variety of available books, by passing the built-in quality checks of promotion and distribution costs, which may help a lot of bad books get exposure. I’m already running into some geography-related books that I had no idea existed, and possibly for good reason.

  17. re: “… [Google’s] writing seems to be driven by conviction and passion …”

    Ummm, conviction and passion for WHAT exactly?

    Please choose:

    [1] Making the infosphere a better place by scanning books

    [2] Increasing Google shareholder value by placing ads where “no ad has gone before”

    [HINT: This is a trick question.]

    Of course, Google will share their advertising proceeds with the authors whose works were exploited … err … ‘scanned’.


  18. If somebody is putting the protected text with copyright laws on a website automatically he agrees on the fact that everyone will read it for free morover it is possible to secure the text with the password or the robot.txt file, so if somebody is putting protected work with law for search engine and alone didn’t accomplish securing the text let alone is harbouring a grudge against himself.

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