I spent some time yesterday and this morning speaking with Allan Alder, counsel for the AAP (see my initial post on this here). I came away convinced of what I initially suspected but so far had not stated: this is a far bigger issue than simply book publishers wanting to protect their business models (though there’s plenty of that in here as well.)
Today David Drummond, counsel at Google, posted another missive in the ongoing communications battle over this issue. In it he positions Google as the innovator which is making incumbents nervous, a position that certainly has a long history (he quotes the Sony Betamax/VCR case) as well as plenty of support amongst the technology elite.
We think you should be able to search through every word of every book ever written, and come away with a list of relevant books to buy or find at your local library. We aim to make that happen, but to do so we’ll need to build and maintain an index containing all this information.
It’s no surprise that this idea makes some publishers nervous, even though they can easily remove their books from the program at any time. The history of technology is replete with advances that first met wide opposition, later found wide acceptance, and finally were widely regarded as having been inevitable all along.
But there are a few larger issues percolating here that bear discussion. First, who is making the money? Second, who owns the rights to leverage this new innovation – the public, the publisher, or … Google? Will Google make the books it scans available for all comers to crawl and index? Certainly the answer seems to be no. Google is doing this so as to make its own index superior, and to gain competitive advantage over others. That leaves a bad taste in the publisher’s mouths – they sense they are being disintermediated, and further, that Google is reinterpreting copyright law as they do it.
And this is not just about books. If Google – and by extension, anyone else – can scan and index books without permission, why can’t they also scan and index video? Look at who owns the book companies that are suing – ahhh, it’s Newscorp (Harper Collins), Viacom (Simon&Schuster), Time Warner (Little Brown).
As I said, I plan more posts/pieces on this, as the issues raised – of innovation, of intellectual property rights, of business models, of more perfect search – are fascinating. But they are also nuanced in that they reflect some of our most treacherous technology/policy debates: the tension between DRM and innovation, between a creator’s rights and the public good, between open and closed (the Craigslist/Oodle debate, for example, is very much related to this).
After staring at this for a day or so, it’s clear to me that this case will go to court. No one wants to settle. Google is digging in, and so is the media world. Folks, we have a real battle on our hands.