October 19, 2005

McGraw-Hill v. Google, another Google Library Project lawsuit

McGraw-Hill v. Google is the latest publisher lawsuit against the Google Library Project (via Copyfight). The complaint seems basic, again claiming the project is copyright infringement.

This lets me elaborate on a point I've been making, and was earlier quoted about Google Print (thanks, Andrew):

What both parties really mean is that Google has got stuff, if not for free, then at a bargain price. Libraries had to pay for licenses or physical material: Google only pays for the scanning - which is an extremely good deal for Google.

As Seth Finkelstein reminds us:

"Consider that this is not Google contributing to culture. It's Google trying to supplant the publishers as the middleman business between authors and readers," he wrote.

So what at first looks like a copyright issue on closer examination is really a compensation issue. ...

A copyright issue is virtually always a compensation issue (the exceptions, "moral rights", are very rare). Copyright functions as a RESTRICTION ON TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION to impose compensation issues. And I don't mean that's new. When the printing press was being developed, it was extensive technological innovation. And surely, at the time, it must have seemed as cool and "geeky" and rich with unbounded promise, as search engines do now.

Now, printing itself, is becoming even more of a commodity, and in some cases (E-books), being eliminated entirely. A publisher's role as a middleman in terms of arranging for the physical printing of a book is much diminished. Whatever printing is required can be contracted, and perhaps even done on-demand. Physical distribution is still required for the chunk of paper, but that is being shifted to mail-order from warehouses.

So what's left, of the publisher middleman function? Promotion. Marketing. Advertising. All of which are becoming more important from the shifts above.

Which is exactly what Google does, in terms of ads for search terms, and "snippets", and trying to match readers with products, err, search results.

That's why Google wants this business. It's not culture. It's the intermediation role between writers and readers.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 19, 2005 11:52 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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But what of editing?

Editorial judgement, consistency, and polish are valuable functions provided by the existing publishing infrastructure. It's not like it's *just* a delivery mechanism.

Posted by: Rob Ferguson at October 20, 2005 05:44 AM

Historically nobody has depended on technology innovation as much as the rights holders themselves. Creators don't need it, but the intermediaries have always depended on it to ensure the product goes further, lasts longer, and reaches more people. They know this, and only fight new technology until they're comfortable with a compensation mechanism.

Now, it's easy to see why [weightless | frictionless choose your buzzword!] global computer networks encourage some people to think that the intermediaries don't have any purpose at all in the future - in some cases, that might actually be true.

But only some. Your analysis of Google's role is excellent but there's a crucial omission from the list, and without it, one can't begin to understand the publishers' anguish. This is the role of finding and nurturing talent.

Now you can argue, with some justification, that today's publishers, labels and studios don't do this very well, or approach the task with a nauseating amount of cynicism, but that's entirely another argument. They undeniably do it. And FNT is a long term commitment.

The boomtastic net utopians tend to respond to this in one of two ways. (I'm not suggesting you're doing either - many people overlook FNT innocently.)

They either suggest that FNT will be an emergent property of the network itself - why, of course the Hive Mind Of The InterWeb will bring us forth our next Beatles and Stones and nurse them through four or five dodgy albums! - or they pretend it doesn't exist at all.

But nurturing isn't the same as discovery, and here we run into a sociological issue of "Who Knows People Best." The cybernetic totalists insist that they alone are uniquely qualified to interpret the Web's Hive Mind! "Just look at the beautiful patterns the web creates..."
The studios, labels and publishers insist they do, and point to a hundred years' worth of keeping the population at generally pretty happy. They're not just fearful of losing their place in society, but also skeptical that as yet undertimed algorithms can do the job better.

(And as I peruse the vast collection of the mediocre and the unspeakable that's called the "Creative Commons Archive", looking for quality talent, I can't fault them on this one. DIY FNT is a lot of work.)

So this is crucial in understanding the psychology of the publishers. They think Google is getting a free ride, and in a very real sense, it is. The algorithms perform no nurturing function.

Oh, and who decides what I see when I search Google Print for "Darwin"? Do I get Gould, Dawkins, or one of Gilder's creationist textbooks? But that's yet another question ;-)

Posted by: Andrew Orlowski at October 20, 2005 02:57 PM

Google isn't going to replace publishers. Are you crazy? They can't just give people the full book without the authors' permission, like some sort of celestial library. It's merely indexing information that you can't get online, and telling you how to get it. Google Print forwards you to the publishers.

Posted by: Anonymous at October 20, 2005 04:29 PM

Andrew, no need to wait. Simply search Google for "darwin" now and see what the first results are.

Posted by: Anonymous at October 20, 2005 04:31 PM

Andrew, and with respect to Seth whose blog this is, you are all too often a troll and attack Creative Commons and other forms of alternative copyright arrangements with what seems to be deliberate hostility and carelessness, the more so when, as often happens, you let your ideology cloud what you write and get the facts wrong. I could point to several examples of this, but it doesn't pay, since I have no illusion that you're going to reconsider whatever it is that you believe about the holiness of author's rights.

Posted by: David at October 20, 2005 05:39 PM

Thank you David, for bringing so much insight to the discussion and for demonstrating your own dazzling debating techniques.

May I suggest you try and relax that sphincter a little, and also try and at least feign a sense of humor. This may - and I can't guarantee it - allow you to appreciate what other people have to say without interpreting every viewpoint that doesn't gel with your own as cognitive dissonance.

And please reserve ad hominim attacks for your own weblog - which I note is called Elitism.org, and where you berate people for "Not Getting It".

I'm not surprised you haven't been able to get an audience.

Posted by: Andrew Orlowski at October 20, 2005 07:42 PM

Finding and nurturing talent? You mean, like Pop Idol?

Thing is, there is a really large pool of potential talent out there - people with great musical ability, a novel inside them, whatever - but I think the supply exceeds the demand. People tend to end up getting chosen on the basis of how well their talent fits the prevailing orthodoxy and how malleable they are rather than how "innovative" they are. Even the Beatles from your example were rejected by a publisher.

Posted by: Peter Clay at October 21, 2005 06:33 AM

Andrew, as usual you get the facts wrong, how very typical of you. My weblog is called elitism.info. Whether I get or not an audience (I don't, as a matter of fact) and whether you are a troll who deliberately attacks CC and FLOSS, are entirely orthogonal statements. You may believe that it is all a matter of opinion, but I'm of that old fashioned school of thought that asserts facts are facts, and no personal opinion changes them. If you mean by cognitive dissonance the sensation I get when I read people like you spouting falsities who should (and probably do) know better, then I have no intention to stop being alert for such dissonance. I'm not sure what sense of humour has to do with humouring those who get their facts wrong (much less when they always get them wrong in one direction--the direction which benefits their ideological stand) and I'd expect that you'd consider it a good thing to be treated seriously, although if your writings are designed to cause laughter I may begin to understand their point. As to speaking of people who don't get it, if you read the article to which you link you will find out that I do not talk of people not getting it in some kind of metaphorical or philosophical sense, but of people getting specific named facts wrong, and in actuality I do say it's a good thing that--as much as they don't get it--The Guardian talks about Open Source.

Posted by: David at October 21, 2005 09:40 AM

This has been a good read. There were some interesting points made. Of note is Andrew's spill on NFT. I never have thought of it in that sense before. Certainly a good NFT strategy could go a long way and may be worth defending. However, I don't think that 'publishers' necessarily represent a 'good strategy.' It has done some good I'm sure, but who's to say the next strategy, perhaps Google, won't be better?
I have been reading a lot on these copyright issues lately. Most of the time the focus is entirely in the wrong place. People are so caught up in preserving an arrangement. Disruptive technologies come along and the discussion centers on what does it do to some arrangement, to someones bussiness. Perhaps the question we should be asking instead is, "What new arrangements can come of this?" Change is the catalyst of all improvement, and when change is shunned under any guise stagnation results.
Is Google wrong because it supplants the current arrangement with publishers? I think it's safe to say that Google will supplant that arrangement, but I don't think that makes Google wrong, that's called competition.
Is Google wrong because it will stagnate the realm of knowledge? This is the fair question. After all, the entire point of copyright laws was to prevent stagnation, not for some 'holy right' for somebody to own knowledge. For what it's worth, I think Google will stir up the pool of knowledge into a rich environment.

Posted by: Von Fugal at October 21, 2005 03:23 PM

Although it may be obvious that Google has a clear business model ready to go in doing this, the secondary benefits of having a vast body of work scanned and available are not trivial. It's not just a matter of Google being a Safari for all books. Being able to get at what others have fed their minds with, or what you and another fed your mind with, or stitched together from many pieces which can be found, referenced, remembered and recalled collectively, opens possibilities for knowledge, creativity, and eclecticism that do not exist. It is not that it is Google's aim necessarily to be more than Big Safari, but such an undertaking will make things possible that were not.

Posted by: Tony Pryor at October 29, 2005 05:42 AM