Friday, October 06, 2006

Pat Schroeder Speaks Out in Response to Books@Google

The following letter is from former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, in response to "Books@Google" by Jason Epstein which appears in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. I don't know if it will get published, though it certainly should.

I thought it very articulately captures the points at issue, was beautifully written and wanted to share it with you. Yes, I have Pat's permission!

To The Editor
The New York Review of Books
October 4, 2006

In his encomium to Google (TNYRB, October 19), Jason Epstein flicks a dismissive hand at the legal action which publishers and authors have undertaken in an effort to bring Google’s library project into compliance with U.S. copyright law. He also mischaracterizes that project as an “utterly heroic....effort to digitize the public domain contents of the books and other holdings of major libraries.” Were Google’s activities limited to public domain materials, neither the publishers, nor the Author’s Guild, would be in court.

In line with its self-stated mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Google is now engaged in making digital copies of the entire collections of some of this country’s most prestigious academic libraries: Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the institutions comprising the University of California. It was only a matter of time before Google focused its ambitious vision on the books and journals housed in these libraries. They are the sum total of who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we’re headed. Former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin said it better than anyone I know: “Books are the main source of our knowledge, our reservoir of faith, memory, wisdom, morality, poetry, philosophy, history, and science.”

There is no doubt that Google has the creative vision and resources to carry out this monumental task. Nor is there any question about the value of making lesser known and out-of-print books readily accessible and searchable, giving individuals and institutions an opportunity to make more informed choices about contents before committing to a purchase, bringing the works of little-known authors to a whole new audience. But Mr. Epstein completely misses the point when he says that “Lawyers for Google and the publishers will continue to exchange Talmudisms on this conflict until book publishers decide to enter the digital world to everyone’s advantage...” We’ve got news for Mr. Epstein—publishers are already planted in the digital world with both feet! Other players, including Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe, the Internet Archive, as well as the publishers themselves, are currently engaged in projects and strategically planning others to make works accessible, searchable, and available to the broadest possible audience on the Internet without abandoning copyright protection.

The key question is rather: does Google have the right to make complete copies of someone else’s creative work for its own financial gain, infinitely enhancing its advertising revenue, without permission from the work’s creator and without sharing any of the benefits it will derive? We think not! We object to Google’s library project not because of its lofty goals, but because of its shoddy business model—a business model which assumes that a $120 billion dollar, profit-making corporation can use its size, power, and image to expropriate rights and property that belong to others and then add insult to injury by telling them it’s for their own good.

Google is doing it right in Europe by obtaining permission from authors and publishers before digitizing their works. Google is doing it right here by licensing content in highly publicized arrangements with the Associated Press and Viacom. Google is even doing it right with individual publishers who have opted to make some of their works available for digital search. Google is not doing it right in the library project! Instead, it presumptuously assumes it can copy complete works still under copyright without obtaining the permission of the copyright holder, claiming its actions fall under the rubric of fair use because they will only show “snippets” of the work to searchers. "Snippet" is Googletalk, not a legal term. While it is possible for a library patron to copy a portion of a book under fair use, Google cannot claim that patron’s right. The word “snippet” is thrown around to distract people from what Google is really doing--reproducing entire copyrighted works for financial gain without permission. This is emphatically NOT fair use. Oh yes, and Google also neglects to say they’re making another full copy of the work, without permission, and giving it to the library as "payment" for being able to copy the library's entire collection. Using someone else’s work as "currency, " without permission, has never been a fair use.

If the perfect search engine is, as Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin once described it, “like the mind of God,” then let it be used in ways that nurture and support the creative genius that feeds it, allowing writers and their publishers, photographers, visual artists, composers, and other creative spirits to benefit from their own work, just as Google benefits.

Pat Schroeder


Sid said...

Thanks for posting this, Isabel. I agree with her assessment about Google. Having been a programmer in a past life, I can understand the enthusiasm of their programming staff for persuing this project. I suspect that they simply see it as a good thing for all, without understanding the overall consequences.

Google's management team, on the other hand should know better.

I enjoyed reading your posts. I'll be sure to come back for more. I'd love to interview you as well if you think you might have a few spare moments.


Isabel Swift said...

Sid: thanks for your comments and support on this issue. As you can tell, I feel strongly about copyright. Must admit, I can get frustrated at the lack of appreciation of the impact of this issue by people who should know better (journalists, etc.). Perhaps they've just drunk the Googlade.

Am in NY Hqn office, let me know interview info & I can check.

Katie O said...

Reading this article sent shivers down my back, and not in a good way. Thanks for posting this. I'll be keeping an eye on this issue from now on, and hoping for a positive ruling.