What's at stake in Google's plan to digitize all the world's books
Google, publishers, and authors asked a judge for another 60 days Wednesday to hammer out a deal to make Google Books a reality. The agreement could shape the nascent industry.
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“Universally accessible” carries connotations of “free,” he notes. “While I hesitate to suggest the Google book digitization project will endanger literature, free expression, art, or anything else, it is another step in the erosion of our understanding of information as property.”Skip to next paragraph
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"Unless Google is willing to compensate information creators for their work (and buy authors’ permission to distribute those works), then we cannot expect anyone to take up information creation as a profession,” he adds.
Some authors enthusiastic
But not all authors are so wary of Google Books. "Access to the accumulated knowledge represented by out-of-print books, if it can even be worked out, would be a boon for authors, publishers, and for the world of knowledge at large,” says Scott Turow, president of the Authors' Guild.
The challenges are significant, though. If the solution were simple, it would not have dragged on for more than half a decade. “Publishers and authors don’t have the time or money [to litigate], and while Google has the money, I don’t know if it wants to open itself up to fair-use claims, which could be a huge headache for them," says Jim Milliot, editorial director of Publisher’s Weekly. "Google is moving very deliberately and trying to find common ground."
Some critics have suggested this effort with Google has made authors "Google's lap dog."
But Peter Atkins, author of "Life Is Short and So Is This Book," refutes such ideas. "I'm 100 percent in favor of Google digitizing the world's books," he says in an e-mail. "As a consumer and business person I want to be able to access the world's knowledge easily – and books are a big part of that knowledge base. And as a writer, I want my book to be available to as many people as possible."
"But, as I've learned now from over 16 years of being involved with the Internet, change comes slowly and entrenched interests frequently fight it every step of the way," he adds.
Next frontier: privacy rights
While privacy issues are not explicitly addressed in the current agreement, their rising importance is yet another element of the digital future of books – and one that Google or any competitor will have to address, says Rebecca Jeschke, spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.
“We need to make sure the privacy we had in physical reading doesn’t get lost as we move into the digital era,” she says, noting that the ability to track behavior and habits “is extraordinarily detailed, from margin notes to chapters skipped and ideas shared.”
Whether it’s Google Books or an e-reader, she adds, “this is the next big horizon that will have to be negotiated.”