Google Suspends Copying Protected Books; Publishers Unimpressed - InformationWeek

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Google Suspends Copying Protected Books; Publishers Unimpressed

Google Inc. has suspended copying copyrighted books found in libraries, but a trade group representing publishers said Friday the action falls far short in stopping what it sees as massive copyright violations on the part of the search-engine giant.

Google Inc. has suspended copying copyrighted books found in libraries, but a trade group representing publishers said Friday the action falls far short in stopping what it sees as massive copyright violations on the part of the search-engine giant.

Mountain View, Calif.-based, Google said late Thursday that it would suspend until November scanning copyrighted books into its database, unless it has prior permission from the publisher or other copyright holder.

The action was taken to give copyright holders time to tell the company which books in public libraries they do not want scanned. The action was taken following discussions with publishers, publishing industry organizations and authors.

But the Association of American Publishers, a national trade organization of the U.S. book-publishing industry, was far from satisfied with Google's decision, since the company intended to eventually continue copying other people's property without permission, Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive of the group, said.

What rankles the association is that Google is placing the burden on copyright holders to tell the company not to copy their property. The association believes it's the company's responsibility to seek permission first.

"That's what our entire fight with them is about," Schroeder said. "If we took their opt-out (approach) and applied it across the entire intellectual-property world, everyone would go crazy. You'd have to spend the rest of your life, after creating something, policing the whole world so you could opt out."

Google, however, says it has the legal right to go into a public library and copy books, as long as it doesn't make copyrighted material available online. With copyrighted works, the company only makes bibliographic information and a few short sentences of text around each search term available, unless it has permission to show more.

"We feel this is consistent and legal," Adam Smith, product manager for Google Print, said. "We feel this is allowed under fair use and is consistent with all the principles underlying copyright law itself."

Not so, said Schroeder. In the association's view, a for-profit company like Google doesn't have the right to copy someone else's work without getting permission first, nor does it have the right to publish even sentences from someone else's property.

Even snippets from copyrighted books can only be used for educational or non-commercial activities, according to the association.

"(Fair use) is not for large organizations making money," Schroeder said.

Both sides are still talking, so a compromise is possible. The association's board is meeting next week to discuss the matter further, Schroeder said. While declining to discuss details, the association said Google rejected its first alternative.

Legal action has not been discussed, but the association does not intend to back down from its position on book copying by commercial organizations.

"It's the precedent that's absolutely chilling," Schroeder said.

From Google's perspective, however, copying library books, part of its mission to digitize as much of the world's information as possible, benefits everyone.

"This program will help users discover more books, publishers sell more books and authors to ultimately write more books," Smith said.

Google announced its library project in December, starting with collections in Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford and The New York Public Library. Besides expanding its network of search advertising, the project could someday put Google into direct competition with giant Internet retailer Amazon.com, experts say.

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