All About Content

Out of Print Does NOT Equal Public Domain

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:23 pm

Evil? No. But unprincipled disingenuous maybe. Google has resumed its scanning for Google Print but is now making clear that its first focus is and always was on out-of-print books. But I have a feeling that what they hope to imply is that in the short term, they only plan to scan out-of-print books, as a way to mollify critics. If they can pull that off, they already have a foot in the door for going ahead with currently in-print books as well. And/but, since the books we’re talking about in this case are already out of print, that wouldn’t be a problem right?

Except that the one thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other. “Out of print” does NOT mean that the work is no longer protected by copyright. If Google truly believes that authors should not have a problem with digitization of their books and that they are not outside the bounds of copyright principles, then why make a big deal out of focusing on out-of-print books?

If they make the argument that a) users can only see snippets of the book, which isn’t useful enough to undermine the original work and therefore qualifies as fair use, and that b) one of the goals is to help drive book sales by letting searchers find titles that they’ll eventually want to buy …

… then wouldn’t there be more internally consistent logic in starting with books that are still in print? A snippet for which you cannot get context, or discovery of a monograph that can’t be acquired, surely is not more useful than a searchable index of commonly read, in-print books.

Google has made its position clear. If Google Print in no way violates copyright law, then they really ought to stick with that, instead of confusing the issue.

Updated Nov. 7
Just got an email from Danny Sullivan, who says that Google hasn’t said their focus is out-of-print books, but just out-of-copyright books (to make available in whole). “They’ve consistently said they’d only republish books that are out of copyright.” Google is scanning a lot of books (starting with old books), but is supposed to be republishing only copyright books online.

Okay, so I’m placated. … or confused! So what exactly are Google Print’s opponents all bent out of shape about? Is or isn’t Google going to make copyrighted books available for keyword searches?? And isn’t the lawsuit and copyright debate about the scanning in the first place?

Comments (2)

Category: Intellectual Property


Comment by JABS

Made Wednesday, 2 of November , 2005 at 8:55 pm

Thank you. Much of this is new to me. I can logically follow it, but an terrified at the pace with which things happen on the internet. Far to fast to monitor.

Comment by Dewi Morgan

Made Sunday, 20 of November , 2005 at 8:58 am

I think the reason they’re “bent out of shape” is that what Google is doing is blatantly, flagrantly illegal.

Open any book. Turn to the copyright page. Chances are that you will see a passage like this [this one is from “The C Programming Language”, 2nd ed, Kernighan and Ritchie]:

“Copyright (c) 1988, 1978 by Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.”

Google are reproducing it, storing it in a retrieval system, and transmitting it by electronic means. The fact that they only show “snippets” to other people does not make this action any less legal. They are illegally copying the full work into their systems, when they do not have any “right to copy”.

I can’t say that I disagree with what they are doing: I strongly agree with it, and feel that copyright law is unpeasant in very many ways.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the authors’ ire at Google flaunting the law like this.

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