Schmidt Writes an Editorial…

…In the Wall St. Journal on the topic of Google Print. In it (paid reg is required), Google's CEO makes the case for why he and his company believe Google Print is fair use, and that the folks suing him (the Author's Guild) are misguided. From the op ed…

In the Wall St. Journal on the topic of Google Print. In it (paid reg is required), Google’s CEO makes the case for why he and his company believe Google Print is fair use, and that the folks suing him (the Author’s Guild) are misguided. From the op ed piece:

Imagine the cultural impact of putting tens of millions of previously inaccessible volumes into one vast index, every word of which is searchable by anyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, First World and Third, en toute langue — and all, of course, entirely for free. How many users will find, and then buy, books they never could have discovered any other way? How many out-of-print and backlist titles will find new and renewed sales life? How many future authors will make a living through their words solely because the Internet has made it so much easier for a scattered audience to find them? This egalitarianism of information dispersal is precisely what the Web is best at; precisely what leads to powerful new business models for the creative community; precisely what copyright law is ultimately intended to support; and, together with our partners, precisely what we hope, and expect, to accomplish with Google Print.

I agree with Eric on this one. Steve Langdon, a press relations fellow at Google, also pointed me to

this piece in Slate, with which I also agree. In it, the author points out the tension between authorial control and exposure to the author’s work. He also reminds folks that you can’t rip off a book via Google Print – it’s not Napster. I think this relates to the whole Craigslist/Oodle dustup, and I’m brewing a post on that, though it ain’t quite ripe, yet. This is a major issue in our culture, and one worth more consideration by us all.

17 thoughts on “Schmidt Writes an Editorial…”

  1. Eric’s aims are noble but his methods I’m afraid are full of greed.

    Why wouldn’t the world be a better place if everything was readily accessible? Oh, you mean Google gets to control the access via its search AND take the lion’s share of the revenue?

    I can see now why he’s forced to making his case to the WSJ for a piece of that pie.

    If Eric really wants egalitarianism, then he should do Google Print, with explicit author and publisher consent, and do it for FREE – the money derived, whether through sales or advertising, goes to publishers and authors.

    Hold on now, that is exactly what governments, libraries, and/or the Open Content Alliance could do. Now that sounds a lot fairer and open to me than Google Print.

  2. I’ll respectfully suggest, Tom, that your reasoning is faulty.

    1) Google won’t earn a cent on increased book sales. Earning money on advertising is incidental, and affects the publishers’ and authors’ earnings not one whit. IMHO, it’s a completely irrelevant point.

    2) Opt-in is a complete non-starter in this context. There’s no way in hell that Google could amass even a depository with 1/100th the completeness.

    Tell me, Tom, if I read a (fair use) snippet of a book on an advertising supported podcast, should I get permission first? What if I include a (again, fair use) snippet of a book in a review on my blog… and my blog has ads on it?

    If you don’t have a problem with my hypothetical scenarios, then why do you have a problem with Google displaying book snippets? (indeed, remember… as multitudes of folks, including John, have pointed out: Google isn’t providing access to full texts!)

    If you DO have a problem with my hypothetical scenarios, then, well, I give up. Clearly, you have it in for all book, movie, and music reviewers and anyone else using content in a fair use manner, and there’s nothing I or others can say to change your mind.

  3. “Imagine the cultural impact of putting tens of millions of previously inaccessible volumes into one vast index, every word of which is searchable by anyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, First World and Third, en toute langue — and all, of course, entirely for free.”

    That’s so noble! Wait – is Eric also going to buy all the world’s poor people a shiny new PC computer so they can access Google Print? Um, yeah, probably not.

  4. I don’t think very many people would have a problem with display of “snippets” of books, if that were defined the same way it is for search of websites: a two-line summary of what the book’s about, with a link to a product page where you can buy the book.

    As an example, say you search for “usability” and find one of my books described as follows:

    Usability Engineering
    by Jakob Nielsen – Computers – 1994 – 362 pages
    Page v – Table of Contents Preface ix Audience ix Teaching Usability Engineering xi …
    8 1.3 Usability Slogans 10 1.4 Discount Usability Engineering 17 1.5 Recipe …

    The user found a relevant book, and clicking the book title brings up the table of contents and a way to buy the book. No problem. I would indeed classify the two-line summary (and even the entire ToC) as a fair-use snippet.

    However, if you click a link below the book abstract, [ More results from this book ], we get into plenty of trouble: This brings up a list of 380 pages on which the word “usability” occurs, with an option for users to view any of these pages. This is basically the entire book, just there for the clicking.

    (They have limits on how many pages you can view in one sitting, but many non-fiction books are of the nature that people only need to read a small bit at any one time, about their current problem.)

    There is no way that access to any page within a book can be described as “snippets”.

  5. As an author myself, the concept of Google Print I do like. But about the approach itself, I am not that sure. Maybe I just need to educate myself some more about Google Print.

    Yes Google Print is a great method to publish, and to have your work be found, but how to ensure author’s content remains protected?

    What I do know though, is that publishing per-se must be re-invented – it will be transformed. Publishers know this. And authors know there is a need for a better way to publish what they want, on their own schedule, while retaining the rights of their content. My goal is to help in this transformation.

    And Google is in a great position to help transform publishing. The idea is to bring authors to them, vs. forcing the search as today; maybe the best answer is a combination of both, so to address old vs. future books.

    As I proposed to Chris Sacca of Google, Google is in the perfect position to create a new *ecosystem* of virtual publishers via a new Web 2.0 publishing service & API that allows authors to come to Google to “print” their publications online, make their content searchable and “consumable

  6. Thanks for the response Adam, though I think as Jakob pointed out, Goole Print, as it exists today, provides access to a lot more content than a snippet.

    Check this out, it’s every single page of Jakob’s book via Google Print. What’s fair-use about that?

    As to economics, it has yet to be proven that resulting book sales will surpass advertising revenue. Until that is know, authors could very well end up on the wrong side of the revenue equation. This is especially true if Google Print continues to provide access to entire pages of content. Why buy the book when you can access the important parts?

    Even Amazon does a better job of working with authors and publishers on this by getting explicit consent instead of stripping their rights from them.

    Regardless of how honorable Eric makes it sound, get Congress to change copyright law or have it done with author consent. Oh, wait, didn’t Google just form a lobbing group in DC?

    I still firmly belive that digitizing the world’s book should be done by the public sector NOT by the monopolistic, total-world-domination-hungry Google.

  7. Maybe we need a new model for considering new models.

    In all of these, whether it is RIAA vs music downloads, Craigslist vs oodle, or Google vs the Author’s Guild it is the old and established versus the upstarts and the public’s interests are seldom served well in these fights since “better, faster, cheaper” resides with the upstart.

  8. Just a quick clarification on Jakob’s concern above. Google Print is composed of two parts — the Publisher Program and the Library Project. His book, Usability Engineering, was submitted by his publisher Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier to the Google Print publisher program which is an opt-in program (much like Search Inside the Book) and allows Google users to see a limited number of the pages of the book. This is indicated below each page of the book along with a link to the publisher. In this case, “Provided by Morgan Kaufmann through the Google Print Publisher Program.” Yes, the user can see a *list* of all the pages, but he will not be able to access them, nor will he be able to scroll more than 2 pages each way from any page he lands on. Clear screenshots of each of the 3 user experiences can be found at:

    Jim Gerber
    Google Inc.
    Content Partnerships Director

  9. Well, there’s a problem with Eric’s logic. He won’t make a cent from the book snippets – not directly, that is. But Google will profit from having this content accessible through their company.

    People will go to Google to find the print search, then use their other services because of the positive branding brought about by this “altruistic” effort. This is the reality of the web – make your site a destination site with free content so you can make money on advertising and other services. Having Print be a separate section of the site doesn’t divorce it from Google’s for-profit activities. How could net-savvy folks be fooled by this?

    Copyright laws allow for fair use for general education, including comment and criticism. Google is adding nothing to general understanding of the material they scan, but merely providing a searchable index. The fair use clause is an EXCEPTION to the rule – Google is making money from offering Google print and is violating the intent of the law.

    Eric’s argument is self-serving, and is obfuscating the real value to Google they are creating with this effort. Don’t buy into this obfuscating argument – the plain fact is that they are doing this to increase their branding, to increase their traffic and so increase their profits.

  10. “Google is adding nothing to general understanding of the material they scan, but merely providing a searchable index.”

    I disagree. Surfacing books and the knowledge they represent is a major addition to society, and I for one have no issues with them getting paid for it.

  11. Agree with John, searching a database of content is in itself a value-added service and deserves to be paid for. But the content is still the original service, without which the search would be worthless. Thus, the content creators deserve to be paid as well.

    If all search does it to serve up a pointer to the content, then everything is fine. Users who think that the content may solve their problem will follow the pointer (whether a link to a website or instructions to buy a book, or any other type of pointer). Once the user arrives at the destination, it’s the author’s/publisher’s problem to figure out how to make money from their content, whether by charging for it or thorugh other means. They should be grateful for the search engine for driving traffic their way.

    Again, there’s only a problem if it’s not necessary to follow a pointer, because the answer can be had through information published on the search engine’s own site. Under this scenatio, the search engine becomes a new publisher of the author’s content and should provide payment, just as is the case when, for example, a book is published in a translation.

    (Of course some authors want to publish for free, in return for PR value or such, but then they would probably have put their content on their website and not in a book. So we should assume that anybody who publishes commercially want to be paid for their work, particularly from somebody who makes loads of money by republishing it.)

  12. Google’s service is much like a book reviewer’s. When I read a book review I often derive benefits from the book’s content without buying or reading the book. If I didn’t there would be no incentive to buy the book, but the benefit remains whether I pay or not.

    As for it being possible to reconstruct the entire book from Google results I don’t think any but the most desperately poor or terminally tightwad would take time to do that–it’s a tiny percentage of the market who would probably borrow the book from a public library anyway and never actually buy it.

    This is a negligible loss comparable to the leakage of content that occurs in book reviews or film trailers.

  13. “Surfacing books and the knowledge they represent is a major addition to society…”

    This is what public libraries do. And a good many of them do it online without requiring a password. For free.

    Libraries are a public good funded by public money and do not benefit from enabling the search. Google can do it better, but the reason they do it is to make money from it, through branding and increased usage of their other services.

    The critical difference is that Google is doing it, and profiting from it, without permission from all authors.

  14. I am not the biggest fan of Google’s tactics, but Eric’s letter was compelling and swayed me. I think Google is acting within fair use principles, will help publishers and authors make money, and will (monetarily and culturally) enrich people the world over. This was a great PR move by Eric and team.

  15. I’ve been reading comments all over the web on this topic for a few weeks now, ever since that first publishers group decided to sue Google. And while there are good points to be made on both sides of the issue, there is something crucial that nobody has mentioned yet. I need to start with a little background first, though.

    I come from an academic community of music information retrieval researchers (ranking, clustering, organizing etc. by content-based musical similarity). We organized the first conference in this field in 2000 (ISMIR), and since 2002, almost four years now, many of us have been trying to get Google interested in doing music search, even personally meeting with some top brass.

    The answer each of one us gets, every time we talk to Google is this: “Google does not do music IR because of Intellectual Property issues”.

    However, time and again, we have pointed out to Google that IP is not an issue, for exactly the same reasons Google is now saying their library digitization project is not an issue. Suppose Google went to a college library, let’s say Indiana University because their music collection is vast, and digitized that library’s music collections. Suppose they then allowed users to “query by example” on that collection, and find music that was similar to songs they already liked. Suppose Google never actually let users hear more than 5% of the song (i.e. a couple of “paragraphs”). If you never actually serve up the song itself, but only serve up a link to the song in an online store, no one’s rights will be violated. But, even after we explained this to Google, their reaction was still: “No, we cannot. We fear intellectual property issues.”

    It seems to me that this disingenuous. If you know it’s “evil” to do this for music, why do you thing it’s “good” to do this for books? Are not both equally protected by intellectual property rights?

    Let’s recast some of Google’s CEO’s words, from above:

    How many users will find, and then buy, [music] they never could have discovered any other way? How many out-of-print and backlist [songs] will find new and renewed sales life? How many future [composers and performers] will make a living through their [notes and lyrics] solely because the Internet has made it so much easier for a scattered audience to find them?

    And yet, Google repeatedly refuses to do music, for intellectual property reasons? Agree or disagree with Google about their justifications for Google Print. But realize that they don’t really believe the reasons they’re giving us. If Google hasn’t gotten into music because of limited resources or limited expertise, that would be one thing. But time and again, they have explicitly claimed to me and my colleagues that it is because of intellectual property, not limited resources or lack of interest. It is with that understanding that I sometimes now shake my head in disbelief when I hear them talk about Google Print.

  16. Tony Sanfilippo, marketing and sales director for Penn State University Press, makes what appears to be an alarming claim in Jason Fry’s WSJ column Real Time when he points out that one of the electronic copies Google makes of copyrighted materials will be given free to the library as payment for supplying it. He says, “we’ll lose the opportunity to sell those digital files of our content ourselves,” noting they are worth tens of thousands of dollars. This is his “primary objection” to Google’s library project aimed at scanning in all print books to make them searchable. But he is confused. First, Google isn’t supply a copy to all libraries, just to the one(s) who supplied the print copy to scan. Thus the loss is tiny when all other libraries remain potential or actual customers.

    More importantly, such loss of revenue has a precedent in the print world. For many years publishers have released a hardcover library binding edition of their paperback books. Also for many years, libraries have refused to pay exorbitant prices for those library editions by buying the paperback and rebinding it for less. The publisher loses income in this conversion, but that doesn’t make it illegal. What’s the difference if a library converts a printed book into an electronic file? Yes, the publisher misses out on income, but I don’t see much difference here.

    One difference might be that, by scanning a book, the library suddenly has two copies when it only bought one: the print plus the electronic copy, when it only bought one. The library could toss the printed copy to solve this problem. But I favor publishers just letting libraries serve patrons in the way most convenient for them.

    In any case, this is unlikely to be a problem any time soon for one simple reason: no library will make an electronic copy unless it can guarantee that the reader can’t copy it; without such guarantees libraries would be exposed to lawsuits from copyright holders. To prevent this, libraries either have to have digital rights management tools that they don’t currently possess, or they have to display only on one screen at a time on a computer in the library, making use of the electronic versions extremely cumbersome, and likely unpopular.

    In short, publishers’ worries are misplaced. Publishers are facing unprecedented competition and change through the Internet. But Google is not a threat. Targeting the company means the reader loses while publishers little to nothing.

    Just because the American Association of Publishers and others might be able to succeed at stopping Google doesn’t mean they should. That would be a travesty, the modern day equivalent of burning down the library at Alexandria before it gets built.

    Greg Bates is the Publisher at Common Courage Press and writing a book, “Book Ends: How The Birth and Death of the Printed Book Changed the World, 1510 and 2010” His blog is at

  17. It doesn’t matter what your perspective, but it’s always been my naive principal that if you create something, it’s your right to decide what’s done with it- am I dumb!
    If we’re referring to companies like publishers, then the only difference is those rights are passed on, but they are the same right.

    If Google really believes in its’ utopean ideal rhetoric, then I’m sure it wouldn’t mind providing for every liblary and every school and every competing search-engine free API’s and White-labelled versions of this new Alexandria that it wishes to build for All mankinds benefit – without adsense!

    The reality is that people haven’t caught up with the fact that google isn’t just run by 2 guys anymore, but is a public compny controlled by professional money-makers.

    The bright-sparks and clever-clogs remain and follow because of google’s history, whereas in time it won’t have the same vision that a company like Apple does or the professionalism (relative to being in touch with users) that yahoo does.

    Finally, when was the last time google actually done something new, rather than google-ising ebay, aim, pricerunner, skype, hotmail, map-quest, et al.

    It’s also always made clear it wants adverts at every think-point at every potential sale, combined with the vision of the internet ,from the begining, as a universally accessed virtual desktop (enter choice of company slogan).

    The sad thing is that those six letters are now hardwired in my fingers and mind, so it will be a while before any real change. Fear is the best thing to make a company be good, and google isn’t afraid that it’s going to disappear any time soon.

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