Hi There, Let's Talk Google

I've been writing in other places and neglecting the blog, but I thought I might try to spend some quality time here. To get started, there's an interesting story over at the NYTimes on the Google library project. I have long been a staunch supporter of the program: the general idea is to scan all books in existence into one massive, searchable digital library. This will include works under copyright (users will be able to see a portion for free but will need to pay for complete access).

Along the way, Google has discovered many orphan books--books still in-print, still under copyright, but without any clear owner. I believe these books should enter into the public domain. But, as the article reports, Google seeks to claim these works, adopting their copyright. This would make these books (a lot of which is scholarship) the intellectual property of Google, so to speak.

Now I find myself extremely suspicious of Google's motivations here. Google has yet to offer a formal statement over at their blog, but I'd expect one soon. No doubt they will argue that these books need to be adopted in order to protect them. But critics cite that this would give Google a powerful monopoly over books produced in the 20th century.

The Google Library project is something to be excited about--so long as it at least tries to remain altruistic in spirit. Jonathan Band's analysis of the recent (last November) settlement case between Google, authors, and publishers reveals that Google is in this for the money. Whether corporate greed completely stains the higher aspirations of the project remains to be seen.

But, for the first time, I'm a bit scared of the little scanner that could. One of the tell-tale indicators will likely be what Google decides to do with public domain works (whether they will be available for free, or whether access to them will be on a pay basis as it will be with copyright material).

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