October 24, 2005
@ 04:06 PM

I recently read two posts on the official Google blog about the recent hubub around their efforts to digitize books and make them searchable over the Web. The posts are Why we believe in Google Print and The point of Google Print.

My immediate personal reaction was how different Google is from Microsoft when it comes to blogging. On the one hand Google is quick to fire people who don't toe the party line in their blogs while Microsoft encourages its employees to show their individual voices even if they sometimes disagree with the company's party line. On the other hand, Microsoft frowns on employees commenting on pending legal actions such as lawsuits while Google has its employees blogging their side of the story in an official capacity. The common thread here is "controlling the message". Google is all about that.

The other thing that struck me about Google's messaging around Google Print was pointed out by Dave Winer in his post  A turning point for the Web?

It's time to realize that Google is no longer the little company we used to love. They're now a huge company that pushes individuals around like a lot of other huge companies. They need some balance to their power. And it's ridiculous to blindly take their side on every issue. Sometimes they're wrong, and I believe this is one of those times. It's certainly worth considering the possibility that they're wrong.

Here's where the point about controlling the message shows up. By any measure, Google is multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation. However whenever its executives speak, they do an excellent job of portraying the company as if it is the altruistic side project of a bunch of geeky college kids. I don't just mean their corporate slogan of "Do No Evil" although it is one manifestation of this strategy. Better examples are Sergey Brin's comments at the recent Web 2.0 conference  where he states that their motives for creating the Google AdSense program was to help keep content-based websites stay in business. Of course, syndicating ads now brings in about three quarters of a billion dollars in revenue for them a quarter.

So what does this have to do with Google Print? Well, I personally don't buy computer books anymore thanks to the Web and search engines. The last book I bought was Beginning RSS and Atom Programming and that's only because I wrote one of the forewards. The only time I've opened a computer book in the past year was recently when I cracked open the reference section of Dynamic HTML when looking for some JavaScript minutae. If I had a good Web-based search engine for content within the book I wouldn't have needed the book. Also, I've been wanting a cheap or free Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for JavaScript for quite some time. If I'd found an ad for a JavaScript IDE while searching for content within the book in my 'hypothetical book search engine' I definitely would have clicked on it and maybe purchased the IDE. My 'hypothetical book search engine' would wean me completely off of needing to buy computer books while probably making a tidy sum for itself by selling my eyeballs to software companies trying to sell me IDEs, profilers, debuggers and software training. 

My point is that Google Print will likely make the company a lot of money and could cost certain publishes a lot of money in lost sales. Even if it doesn't, the publishing industry will likely cede some control to Google. That's what these lawsuits are about and from that perspective I can understand why various publishers have initiated lawsuits with Google. To frame this as 'the evil publishing industry is trying to prevent us from completing our corporate mission of making information more accessible to users' is disingenuous at best and downright manipulative at worst.

Markets are conversations, to succeed in the marketplace you have to dominate the conversation and control it to suit your needs. Google is definitely good at that.


Monday, October 24, 2005 5:05:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I always thought Mark Jen's firing was, not due to any "party line" stuff, but just due to being incredibly stupid in public.
Monday, October 24, 2005 5:09:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
If your company markets itself as the best place in the world for geeks to work, is it part of the "party line" if a new hire from a competitor complains about your pay and benefits?

Go back and read http://99zeros.blogspot.com/2005/01/uh-oh-what-happened-to-my-bank-account.html from that perspective.

Monday, October 24, 2005 7:28:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Google Print will likely make the company a lot of money and could cost certain publishers a lot of money in lost sales. Even if it doesn't, the publishing industry will likely cede some control to Google."

But publishers can opt out of the Google index. If they don't want their book in there, all they have to do is say so.

AFAIK the lawsuit is about making it opt-in rather than opt-out.

So, I can't see it doing the publishers any harm beyond the tiny extra cost of opting out.
Monday, October 24, 2005 8:30:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Slightly more subtle point about opt-in/opt-out.

First, organizations tend to resist change. There's a small forest of business books devoted to that topic.

OK, suppose you run a publishing company called, uh, Duwamish Books. Suppose that you sincerely think including books in Google Print will reduce their sales. What do you do?

The logical thing is to make sure that all YOUR books are opted out... but allow your foolish competitors to forget about theirs. Ha! Their sales will drop, yours will remain, and authors will flock to your company, making you a rich man. The last thing you want is this lawsuit.

I suspect the reason for the lawsuit is not that they fear Google Print will harm sales, but that they fear it will RAISE sales. That would plunge them into a terrifying new world of long-tail distribution and backlists and that Internet thing their secretary uses; where upstart competitors might start kicking their asses.

Far less scary to try to stop it before it happens.
Monday, October 24, 2005 9:26:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think it's seriously debatable that searching inside a book means you never need it.
Monday, October 24, 2005 9:56:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Focusing on whether Google makes money or some publishers lose money is missing the forest for the trees. In a world where Google (or any Internet-based search provider) is prohibited from indexing books, book-bound information becomes impractically expensive to find and thus, over time, effectively lost.

Why don't you buy computer books anymore? Because it's too expensive for you to _find_ relevant computer books. You have become accustomed to searching on the Internet, where you can find relevant information almost instantly for almost no cost. Even if better information were available in books that you would gladly pay for, you'll never know because you, being sensible, won't suffer the expense of searching for those books.

Think about how much of humankind's vast wealth of knowledge is tied up in books. Think about how little of that knowledge can be found by any practical means. That knowledge is effectively dead. Google Print (and similar projects) promise to bring it to life. Think about what that promise means.

That's why I don't accept your claim that Google is being disingenuous by saying that "the evil publishing industry is trying to prevent [Google] from ... making information more accessible to users." Google's summary seems apt to me. Whether Google stands to make money is a red herring. The real issue is whether the bulk of humankind's knowledge will be lost or found, and Google is right (and smart) for keeping the focus where it belongs.

Cheers. --Tom
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 12:05:01 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The Libraries do not own the copyright to the books, Google haven't bought the rights to scan the books, there is no way Google should be allowed to profit from this on the basis we're supposedly losing some heritage to rotting books.
If Google were scanning the books for the Libraries' private collection, to be viewed within a library, fair enough, I may feel more inclined to argue the case. But Google are being far from altruistic and using their past credibility cover up incredible evil with both personal and copyrighted information.
I had never heard such nonsense, that we are losing the bulk of human knowledge until Google tried to convince us this was the case. And even if it were the case, are Google the privately owned company we should endow this heritage to? Is it their responsibility to do this? If it really is such a critical situation, that human knowledge is being lost daily to books that are falling apart, maybe we should instead look to international Governments to sort it out.
Just as Microsoft evangelists have been accused of towing the company line, of chasing the almighty dollar, of 'doing evil', so Google have apparently convinced people, that, although they are doing the same, they're doing 'a good thing' for all of us. How ridiculous.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 3:29:19 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, the two bloggers you accuse of "towing the party line" are the Google General Council and a Print Product Manager, quoting the CEO. Are they supposed to blog against their own decisions and projects? In what possible way is that evidence that Google is "all about" controlling the message?

If MS is so different, where are the blogs from MS' General Council and product managers speaking against their own projects? Where are Ben Smith's blogs saying MS is wrong to resist European anti-trust cases? Where are your blogs saying RSS is overrated and should be dropped? :-) That would seem to be the equivalent.

On the topic of being sacked for their blog, I was surprised you didn't mention Michael Hanscom. Or was that off-message?
Rick Jelliffe
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 4:16:22 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Doug, you raise some interesting points to which I would like to respond.

First, "the libraries do not own the copyright to the books, ..." It remains to be seen whether indexing for search constitutes fair use under copyright law. I am inclined to believe it is a fair use, but the laws that get written may ultimately disagree. Until the fair-use issue is decided, however, copyright-based arguments are probably premature.

Second, "I had never heard such nonsense, that we are losing the bulk of human knowledge until Google tried to convince us this was the case." That's probably because there was no alternative and hence no case to be made until somebody actually set out to digitize libraries. Now that the possibility of searching vast libraries of books via the Internet is plausible, we have something to consider. And we ought to consider the issue carefully.

Third, "if it really is such a critical situation, that human knowledge is being lost daily to books that are falling apart, ..." The argument isn't that knowledge is being lost because books are falling apart. Rather, it's that books are so expensive to search that the knowledge within them is difficult to find today and will be effectively lost tomorrow, when most of society is accustomed to the efficiency of Internet-based searching.

Fourth, "And even if it were the case, are Google the privately owned company we should endow this heritage to?" Why get hung up on Google? Nobody is endowing Google with anything. The issue of whether printed information ought to be searchable on the Internet is bigger than Google. Decide that issue on its own merits.

Then we can talk about out how to make it happen. It's a massively complex problem, and if Google wants to give it a go, good for them. I hope others take up the challenge, too.

Cheers. --Tom
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 3:16:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The bigger Google picture is worrying because the Google is Good default reframes the debate - it's happening in the comments here already. With Google getting petulant with journalists (threatening to ignore CNET for a year and breaking after a few months), letting search results get flooded by comparison shopping sites (try searching for a brand of digital camera and finding anything other than Kelkoo et al) and not taking a stronger stance in China, I'm watching for the Google backlash. If anyone remembers as far back as the launch of Amazon, there was a moment when the Usenet denizens realised that the book information service they'd been so keen on was actually, shock horror, a commercial business with commercial priorities and there was a sense of disillusionment.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 4:49:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Mary, you're spinning. Amazon broke with more than denizens of Usenet, and they did a lot more than being a commercial business, they filed and enforced a patent on something they didn't invent, and at the same time were benefiting from an enormous amount of patent-free technology, that, if it didn't exist, there wouldn't have been an Amazon at all. The commons of the Internet don't exist for commercial entities to usurp, they're here for all to use. Damn straight they lost our support when they went down that path, if they cared, they would have factored that into their strategy. Don't make us out to be idiots for caring about the Internet, that's pretty damned nasty.
Patti Smith
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 11:01:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Amazon aside, uh, aside, I think Mary's point is a good one. We're making assumptions based on some belief that Google is acting on behalf of the commons. I don't think this is a safe assumption to make. I don't think we know enough to discredit it, but we don't know Google's longterm plans for so much of the data isn't subsuming.

I don't know if this will hurt book sales or not, but I do know there is an existing copyright system and Google's wanting to re-define this should cause concern. This should have been an opt-in situation, and that it isn't shows an amazing amount of arrogance on the part of Google; so much so that it makes me wonder what will be next: scanning in names and addresses of people from car license plates (based on a previous pre-Google incident in Oregon)?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 1:18:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So, when is Google going to open up the rest of their (non-Google Earth) API for us to use their database of indexed content without ponying up $$$?

Hey, shouldn't using their index of web content, which is freely available from any web browser, be usable by my computer program?

They are hypocrits!
David Mercer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 1:45:31 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Patti: Damn f**king straight - - and thank you for saying it.

As I've been arguing at length on several blogs, this is a basic question of fairness and respect. Google and I are both, ultimately, in the IP business. I don't get to use Google's IP unless I agree to their Terms of Service. As an author, my TOS is the copyright line. Why is it ok for Google to ignore mine while insisting that I respect theirs?

As for saving the world, as I've also ranted about at length, Messrs. Schmidt, Page and Brin have the moral authority to lecture me not at all. As soon as they start practicing what they preach, I'll consider listening - - until then they should can the public moralizing and STFU. Actions speak louder than words, and I'll put my history of personal contribution up against theirs any day of the week.

For both Google and the publishing industry this is about money and control - - hungry minds and starving artists are not primary factors in either's calculations, despite what their respective PR and legal lackies might claim. Both sides should own up to that, because we're going to need at least a modicum of honesty in order to come to any sort of understanding on this.

The issues here are profound. The notion of being able to search every book in existence via my computer is hugely exciting. However - - I'm also very worried about what's happening to authors and other creators, and I don't like the consequences Google's activities have had on writing already (a topic for a different rant some other day.) We need to keep the original purpose of IP law at top of mind: making sure creators can be sufficiently compensated to enable and encourage them to keep creating.

As John Battelle has stated frequently, Google's primary asset is trust. They are not, in my opinion, currently showing themselves to be worthy of it. I included the little Deathstar picture in the G logo on my site precisely because I was hoping to make my own little contribution to shaking up the still dominant frame that Microsoft is the evil empire that can do no good, while Google is the scrappy startup that will save the world and can do no evil. Both companies are profit-oriented, multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporations.

We would do well to remember that fact as we work to negotiate a common future.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 2:22:01 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Theo: my problem with opt-out is that I think there is a real, non-BS slipperly slope problem. Rather than link elsewhere, I'm going to excerpt something else I wrote here:

Search is an intensely competitive space, generating an obscene amount of cash. If this venture proves successful, imitation seems highly likely. It also seems very possible to me that some might try to “improve” on Google’s offering by including more viewable content. 20 pages, 50, 100… once started, where does it stop exactly? Do authors who retain their own copyrights have to hunt down, research and obey the arbitrary opt-out procedures for each one to enforce rights that are already theirs under the law? Why?

I have no particular love for the publishing industry, but many authors hold their own copyrights. It seems unreasonable to me to put the burden on them to constantly have to defend their copyright against every search service that comes along and wants to profit from repurposing their hard work. Very few authors are able to make a living pursuing their craft, and of the few that do, many still have to hustle to pay their bills every month. It seems more equitable to me to put the onus on the hundred-billion dollar corporation that wants to make a few more billion by re-using authors’ work (without paying a nickel for it) to at least ask for permission first.

Small disclaimer: despite my strong views on this topic, I actually don't have a horse in this race. The company I work for won't be impacted by GPrint one way or the other, and I am not a writer myself. Just someone who cares about both technology and good writing (though you'd never guess the latter from reading my posts...)
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 2:47:27 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
If I operate a web-site offering searchable
content on health/medicine, Can I scan books
on these topics from libraries and offer snippets
on my web-site?

if not, why not? whats different between me and google?

I can adopt a motto like "Do No No Evil", does that
make me more eligible to scan books?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 8:01:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

First, I don't see that many organizations having the resources to scan books on a large scale.

Second, fair use limits the size of the snippets that can be displayed. There's not going to be a slippery slope to services providing 100 page "snippets", because that would be clearly NOT fair use, and hence illegal.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 8:55:45 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
He doesn't mean 100 page snippets. He is asking whether sites like WebMD can power searches such as http://my.webmd.com/search/search_results/?sourceType=medical_reference&query=chicken%20pox simply off of scanned books?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 9:02:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Re: resources - anybody having the resources to do what Google is doing now was unthinkable not too long ago. Things move pretty fast in the internet age. Furthermore no other single party needs to replicate the full scope of what Google is doing in order for this phenomenon to still occur. Someone might create a portal centered only around foo books. The universe of foo books might only contain a few hundred to a few thousand titles, but distribute this over several thousand niche portals, and you have a problem again.

Also - the "most organizations don't have Google's resources" argument cuts both ways, in my opinion. That is: surely a company with Google's assets can afford to make at least a minimal good faith effort to get in touch with copyright holders instead of just railroading them? I've written elsewhere what I think such a solution might look like (I've gotten myself into a bad situation where I'm having conversations on this topic in a half-dozen different blogs and discussion threads now. I am posting some of my own comments back onto my own site, and will include a discussion of the above when I have time, if you're interested.)

Re: fair use (and with the standard disclaimer that I am in no way shape or form a lawyer), I did a little bit of homework on this topic out of curiosity the other day. My current understanding is that "free use" is purposefully, extremely vague. Pretty much the only things that is "clearly" fair use is transformative work (e.g. parody, criticism, and commentary.) Claims that some particular application is "clearly fair use" (or not fair use) are therefore specious until determined either through legislation or legal precedent.

That being the case, I would argue that you can't say my secondary scenario would never happen because it's not fair use. "Fair use" in this particular set of circumstances hasn't been decided yet. That's precisely what this whole argument is primarily about, if I'm not mistaken.

Which, of course, I could be. If you have sources on this topic that support your statement, I'd be happy to be proven wrong and learn something in the process. I gleaned my basic top line statements about the topic from here:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 9:09:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"I can adopt a motto like "Do No No Evil", does that
make me more eligible to scan books?"

rr: it depends. is your site pigeon powered? does anyone from the Grateful Dead work for you? do you have more money than God?

I'd guess that with at least 2 out of 3, you're probably golden.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 9:20:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Damn I miss the old K5. Could have had some interesting discussion there in the old days...

Regarding WebMD:

1. That would not be fair use.

2. The publisher of the scanned books could opt out if he doesn't like it.

3. Remember that what we're talking about is the DEFAULT for the system: whether it's opt-in or opt-out. What you're trying to do is find an EXCEPTIONAL case, and try to use that to justify setting the DEFAULT behaviour. What about all the books that AREN'T medical dictionaries? Surely the default behaviour ought to come from the majority of cases, where short snippets are not a competition to the entire work.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 9:34:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Indeed, fair use is very limited. That makes it very hard to exploit the concept to create a service that competes directly with the book that you've indexed.

But if you think the fair use is too vague, the solution is surely to make fair use more precise; not charge straight into a situation where ALL use is banned without explicit consent. That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Regarding Google as a whole. For every new tech company or product there's a tipping point; before which it's trendy for tech journos and high profile bloggers to hype them, after which it's trendy to knock them. Google's pretty clearly passed that point a while back (I'd say with Gmail). As with Microsoft though, I doubt the change will have much effect in the real world outside the blogopunditocracyosphere...
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 10:26:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>Surely the default behaviour ought to come from the majority of cases, where short snippets are not a competition to the entire work.

The default behavior should be one that doesn't allow large corporations to exploit the works of others for their own financial gain. Figuring out exactly where that line is will likely be for a court of law to decide.
Thursday, October 27, 2005 6:58:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

WEAK! Opt-out already protects people in these tiny exceptional cases.

You know, this reminds me of the way Microsoft funnelled cash to SCO, helping their anti-Linux lawsuit. Just how far is Microsoft supporting this lawsuit against a competitor?

McGraw-Hill is listed first in the list of suing publishers. Aren't they the actual publishers of "Microsoft Press" books?
Thursday, October 27, 2005 2:20:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Opt-out is a red herring. Using your logic I have the right to redistribute "snippets" of copyrighted music and movies via BitTorrent and eDonkey as long as I provide an email address on my website where record labels can email me so they can opt-out.

You need the permission of the copyright holder to redistribute copyrighted content. The fact that search engines get away with it on the Web today is an anomaly in the sea of intellectual property issues. The main question here is whether some judge will agree that Web search engines have set some sort of precedent that trumps existing interpretation of copyright law or not.
Sunday, October 30, 2005 3:31:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, do you not understand fair use? Your last paragraph ignores it entirely.

"You need the permission of the copyright holder to redistribute copyrighted content." No, you don't, if your redistribution falls under fair use.

"The fact that search engines get away with it on the Web today is an anomaly in the sea of intellectual property issues." The reason they "get away with it" is because most rational people (any many judges fall into this category) are likely to conclude that the use of copyrighted materials for the purpose of enabling Internet searches is a fair use.

Despite the MPAA and RIAA wanting us to forget it, copyright was intended to provide a benefit to the public. Part of that benefit is "fair use" of copyright-protected works, and the public need not ask permission for such uses.

To use your example, "Using your logic I have the right to redistribute 'snippets' of copyrighted music and movies via BitTorrent and eDonkey," you *would* have that right, if what you distributed on BitTorrent or eDonkey was a fair use of the movies and music. For example, if you redistributed "Dare's Music Reviews," in which you reviewed music and included representative clips of copyrighted music, that would likely be a fair use of the music -- no permission required.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that copyright gives creators absolute control over their works. It does not. Their control is limited by the public's right of fair use and (in theory) by time.

Cheers. --Tom
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