Way back when the Google Books issue first burst forth, I expressed considerable skepticism that their plan to scan the universe of books and put it on line could be described as anything besides copyright infringement. As I wrote in my firstest post on the topic nearly four years ago:
It sounds like copyright infringement to me to put someone elseâ€™s entire work into a database â€œjust to make it accessible and useful.â€ What am I missing?
I actually kind of softened on that recently. Maybe Google Books is just the world’s biggest card catalog, but better? In fact, on Likelihood of Success today, I linked to an internal page on Amazon.com — which although it is authorized by the publisher, works quite similarly to Google Books — and didn’t feel as if I were doing anything like infringing, and indeed felt more as if I might help an author sell some books.
Well, Patrick from Popehat is here to get me back on the straight and narrow:
While, as a consumer of books, Iâ€™m happy enough for myself that if this settlement goes through Iâ€™ll have access to many more than I have now, and for free, Iâ€™m deeply concerned about the fairness of this settlement to the authors themselves. Iâ€™m sure many will be happy to get a little money they wouldnâ€™t otherwise receive. Others donâ€™t know about the settlement, or donâ€™t care. And still others think they should have the right to control their intellectual property, absolutely. . . .
Under the Google Books class action settlement, Google, alone in the universe, would be allowed to reprint and redistribute the work of any author who doesnâ€™t opt out of the settlement, with or without the authorâ€™s consent. And itâ€™s a fair bet that most authors donâ€™t know that their rights are being bargained away.
Hm. Maybe my glossing over the distinction between Amazon’s “search inside” feature and the Google “mandatory license” approach was error. I do like Patrick’s point about the difference between authorization and a mere presumption of authorization. I’m not sure I agree with his “absolutism” about controlling intellectual property, however, and I don’t think either the Constitution or cases interpreting the Copyright Act would, either.
Big issues. This is not yet one for the books.