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Parable about Google’s Library Project and copyright (

Parable about Google’s Library Project and copyright (discussed here last week). “All I have to do is borrow the CDs or DVDs, downloaded music or video or whatever, copy them, and then offer some sort of ‘fair use’ excerpt index service, just like Google is doing with the books. It’s the perfect gimmick.”

Reader comments

Julie DurbinOct 24, 2005 at 9:48AM

So - I'm slightly unclear about one thing: is Google borrowing all these books from a library and then scanning them? Or are they stealing them from a store, then scanning them?

OverwormOct 24, 2005 at 10:00AM

One thing is for certain and that is Google is not buying the documents they are adding to their database. Even if Google is "borrowing" the books or checking them out in a high-tech fashion, does it really matter.

Would it be illegal for me to go to my local library, check out a host of CDs and DVDs, and copy them onto my computer before returning them in a timely fashion? My local library has thousands of music CDs, from Led Zepplin to Dave Brubeck to Cee-lo. They also have hundreds of DVDs for loan. Someone could build a massive entertainment catalog by simply borrowing these items, just as Google is doing.

If it's legal for Google, why isn't it legal for the rest of us? Or is it?

strathmeyerOct 24, 2005 at 10:15AM

This doesn't even make any sense. Google doesn't allow you to download a whole book. It's not at all comparable to being able to download a whole DVD or CD. The author doesn't seem to understand what fair use is. The whole article is nonsense.

DanOct 24, 2005 at 10:32AM

Strathmeyer: I think you're missing the point, which is that Google has to get the whole books from somewhere. They don't just appear out of thin air.

And honestly, this is making me rethink my position on the Google vs. publishers issue.

OverwormOct 24, 2005 at 10:34AM

But, Strathmeyer, Google is copying these complete works into their database. Whether they then allow a third party to access the complete work isn't the question.

Doesn't the copying of the complete work, without purchasing said work, violate copyright laws? And if not, would it not then be logical to assume that you or I could copy books, movies, or music files to our computer database?

Dave MungerOct 24, 2005 at 10:43AM

Yeah, maybe it violates copyright in the sense that a "copy" is being made, but the whole concept of "copy"right is really antiquated. Everything digital must be copied before it can be used. Is it "legal" to copy your CD onto your iPod? Not technically, but since you're listening to your music, no one bugs you.

Google isn't copying the books because it wants to read them for free, Google is copying the books to provide an indexing service. The real question is whether the indexing service violates copyright.

OverwormOct 24, 2005 at 11:02AM

It doesn't matter why Google is copying the books. Copyright law, as I understand it, does not go into intent, only actions. The action of copying is what makes it illegal. To bring in the indexing service angle is to obfuscate the issue, which is exactly what Google's lawyers are doing.

I originally backed Google's plans, but the more I learn about it, the more it bothers me. I'm sure all those Ph.D's at the Google campus put a lot of brain power into this idea before they acted on it, but it seems that this plan not only skirts the line, it jumps over the line with two firmly planted feet.

A copy is a copy, but any other name. A free copy is an unpaid copy is an unrewarded copyright holder. I'm not one to trumpet the rights of megacorporations, but I will say that if Google is allowed to do what it plans to do here, that the MPAA and RIA won't have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to their lawsuits.

Dave MungerOct 24, 2005 at 11:58AM

A copy is a copy, eh?

Let's think about what we need to ban now.

Google (regular google, not just google print)
Tape recorders
digital cameras
Any old camera

See the problem?

John AOct 24, 2005 at 12:19PM

"I will say that if Google is allowed to do what it plans to do here, that the MPAA and RIA won't have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to their lawsuits."

That's exactly the point, MPAA and RIAA DONT have a leg to stand on! :)

By the definition of copyright law, it is ok for me to use music I bought on my computer, ipod, and whatever else I want to play it on. Yet, they want to stop me from doing that based on the assumption I am doing it to pass it on to my friends for free.

Google doesnt own the books they are copying to put in the index. So, I dont know what to think of that ...

Ben YatesOct 24, 2005 at 12:27PM

The universities google is parterning with do own the books, and they're giving google permission to index them.

Brian MingusOct 24, 2005 at 1:10PM

Google's book scanning process requires that the book be destroyed. Of course they won't destroy rare books, but if it can be easily obtained they thrash it. That said, they are legally obtaining these books, because in able to destroy them for their scanning process, someone has to give them to them. Just because there is no money exchanging hands does not mean that Google is not legally obtaining the book.

essOct 24, 2005 at 1:12PM

"The action of copying is what makes it illegal." Overworm, where are you getting this idea? Or do you mean the action of copying an entire work?

Ben Yates - I'm also unable to follow your comment. Permission to index wouldn't automatically equal permission to make entire copies. And when you say "do own the books"- are referring to set of books from the university press at institutions who are working with Google, or do you mean books the university has in their library?

Nothing in my casual reading indicates that it would be legal for Google to own and profit by the use of whole copies of copyrighted works, and my guess is that because the Google-cache issue hasn't let to the big lawsuit quite a few legal folks expected, Google is hoping this will also fly.

Brian MingusOct 24, 2005 at 1:17PM

I freaked out a bit after I posted that because I couldn't remember where I had read they destroy the books, but, alas, it was in the Google Print FAQ:

"Our scanning process requires that your books be dismantled"

mandyOct 24, 2005 at 1:51PM

So basically, this argument against Google Print is that someone will use the same process to
create, what, iTunes?

Dave MungerOct 24, 2005 at 1:58PM

Brian Mingus--

You're confusing the commercial Google Print for Publishers project with Google Print Library. Google Print for Publishers is an opt-in process -- publishers voluntarily send in books to be scanned in by Google.

Google Print Library is different -- libraries loan Google books, which will be scanned (and NOT destroyed) and returned to the collection. So yes, they are making a copy. Google Print Library is the one being sued.

Name*Oct 24, 2005 at 2:51PM

The universities google is parterning with do own the books, and they're giving google permission to index them.

For the most part, they have no right to grant permission. The universities generally only own a copy of the book, they don't own the book.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 3:06PM

Is it "legal" to copy your CD onto your iPod?

Actually, yeah it is, because that qualifies as fair use. Laurence Lessig's book Free Culture is a great place to start on US copyright law and why exactly it took a wrong turn, and what might feasibly be done about it (as opposed to just bitching that it's antiquated and then ignoring it because you're a technophile and you think that some notion of progress somehow entitles you to).

Jason ColemanOct 24, 2005 at 3:13PM

So if I've purchased a book and loan it to my friend/family member, I'm violating copyright law? Of course, not, as that's well within fair use. So what if my friend then copies portions of the text for use in a paper or article? Well, that's widely accepted as being legal as well (no, not plagiarizing, that's different). So if two individuals can share books and use portions of the text from them to create new works or as reference, then why is Google doing anything different? Nothing I've read indicates that users will be able to read entire texts. Just like any other cache Google has, searches on similar phrases/words will turn up results.

Having the world's literature in fully searchable format is a good thing. Someone's got to do the leg work on that and quite frankly, I trust Google as much as anyone else who could possibly do it beside the Universities. However, I don't know of many University libraries that have that kind of cash laying around for neat side projects, hence why they are loaning their books to Google.

Personally, I hope that Google does this with music and film as well. I'd love to be able to search for music lyrics and film quotes and get some better results than what's out there now. Why Ms. Weinstein's "friend" seems to believe that this means we can all download those works is beyond me.

jkottkeOct 24, 2005 at 4:07PM

Ms. Weinstein

He's a Mr., actually.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 4:23PM

why is Google doing anything different?

Whether Google distrubutes the whole of their copy or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they are making a copy of a work they don't have the right to copy. Period. When you loan a book to a friend you are not manufacturing a new book; what Google is doing essentially does just that (although I am sad to hear that they have to disassemble the books to do it... that alone would make me as an author refuse to allow my books to be included... books hold almost as much value as artefacts as they as texts).

Jason ColemanOct 24, 2005 at 4:28PM

My apologies to Mr. Weinstein. I didn't gloss over the text as much as I obviously did the author's bio.

OverwormOct 24, 2005 at 4:29PM

Dave Munger says:
A copy is a copy, eh?

Let's think about what we need to ban now.

iPod Google (regular google, not just google print) Tape recorders TiVo Xerox Digital cameras Any old camera camcorders libraries pencils paper
See the problem

C'mon now, including libraries, pencils, and paper in an already questionable list is really going over the top.

With an iPod, the assumption is that one owns the original recording which one purchased via legal means. With tape recorders and any kind of camera, the assumption is not that one is going to break copyright law in the use of the product.

The Google project acknowledges it is making full copies of items it has not purchased. And as another poster said, a library does not own the copyright and cannot give legal permission to have a work copied.

Then again, I'm no lawyer, so maybe my logic has been corrupted by my lack of legal training. However, I haven't seen any valid argument for why Google's project is legal.

OverwormOct 24, 2005 at 4:47PM

Ess asked: Overworm, where are you getting this idea? Or do you mean the action of copying an entire work?

Yes, Ess, that what I mean.

NathanOct 24, 2005 at 10:44PM

What ya'll are failing to remember is a reason why the Google Library Project is unintentionally good. Because the content of the books are able to be searched, this could help catch plagarizers. Teachers and Professors can use this as a valuable tool to compare with their students works to see if they have been copying certain things. This in essence is actually protecting the Authors works more than exploiting them. Who knows... Maybe even a few books might have the same exact passages or phrases which could lead to the original copyright owner finding out and filing a lawsuit to get reparations. For example, does anybody remember what happened to Stephen Ambrose with plagiarism?

essOct 25, 2005 at 11:37AM

Nathan, I can think of many, many reasons why Google's scheme would have some good results. But I can also think of many reasons why it would be "good" for homeless people to creep into my house and eat left-overs and extra pop-tarts that I would most likely just throw away or feed to the dog, why it would be "good" for me to hop fences and play with the lonely dogs of the wealthy, and from my viewpoint it's great for me to drive 103 on I-10 through New Mexico. However, if you want to think in terms of policy and process, it's not difficult to show why these seemingly good things may not be for the best.
(Thanks, overworm!)

Jerry KindallOct 25, 2005 at 7:39PM

Is it "legal" to copy your CD onto your iPod? ...Actually, yeah it is, because that qualifies as fair use.

It's legal, but not because of fair use. Fair use is a legal doctrine that covers the copying of excerpts of copyrighted works for comment, criticism, or instructional purposes. iPods are legal because of the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which establishes the right of consumers to make copies of copyrighted recordings in different formats for their personal use. It doesn't specifically cover MP3 recordings (since it came out in 1992) but the principle is clear enough.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.