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Google & the Library, Karen Christensen 2005

“Google & the Library” contributed to Google Debate site hosted by EPS in London in those early dates, before the Google Book Settlement

By Karen Christensen, Berkshire Publishing Group

Our problem is that the people at Google don’t really get books.

They want to believe that books are just primitive webpages, nothing but more information to be organized for the benefit of everyone.

Google Print recently wrote to publishers saying, “It’s also important to bear in mind that, just like web search, any copyright holder can ask to have their books excluded from the Library Project by following these instructions: . . . .”

But websites are built for the web. Books were not written for Google Library. Forcing publishers and authors to opt-out, instead of opt-in, is not fair. It’s coercive.

Not to mention a processing nightmare. With the opt-in program Google Print, in which publishers provide the books (and permissions), Google has had many delays. They even sent a Google Gumby clock as an apology to participating publishers. I can only imagine the mess that Google Library could turn into, and the errors that will result.

Librarians, unfortunately, don’t understand the rights of the creators and producers of books. Most librarians do not understand the work and expense, the expertise and talent, involved in creating the publications they buy. And quite a few believe that information should be free—unless it is only available through them.

Besides that, Google has an unhealthy fascination for librarians: they are (rightly) terrified by the fact that students go to Google instead of to them, but they can’t take their eyes off it. Google is taking advantage of librarians by making them partners in a process that undermines the sources of information and knowledge that their institutions and communities depend on.

As a result, authors and publishers can easily be made to look obstructive and mean-spirited. Our task now is to explain that while we’re increasingly receptive to online marketing and publishing opportunities, our books are original creative work and we think that any money they earn, or enable others to earn, should be shared with us. And we certainly don’t think anyone should do anything with our work—in any format—without our permission. (Most e-rights book contracts give the author the right to check the digital version for errors. What protection do we have with Google? )

But we’re going to struggle to get the public, people outside the creative professions and academia, to understand this. Most people think that being a published author should be its own reward. And Google looks so friendly, so open-hearted, so democratic. It’s a good thing the Google lawsuit isn’t going to be decided by a public referendum, because we authors would lose hands down.

I’ve taken to asking people whether, if it were possible, they would be happy if they knew Google was going to scan, store, and index copies of all their personal photographs and diaries, photos of the interior of their house and their closets, all without permission? (And use that content to make money.)

Our challenge is to show people just what it takes to create and publish a book and that intellectual creation merits every bit as much protection as physical property. And we need to talk about this is simple terms. When Google says it will take and hold and use content that does not belong to them, without asking permission, they are coming awfully close to breaking their own rule, “Don’t be evil.”

© Karen Christensen 2005

2 thoughts on “Google & the Library, Karen Christensen 2005

  1. Well, I guess you knew I’d respond. While the battleground may be Google vs. authors and publishers that’s not the real issue. The real issue is making sure that an environment is maintained that encourages the creation and consumption of content (books, songs, art, etc.). Note that both sides need this environment.

    Encouraging creation: This means different things to different people. For some, it’s just knowing that someone is reading or enjoying their efforts, like bloggers such as Julie from Julie/Julia movie or you. Others need assurance that their work wll support them economically or provide a $$ ROI. This requires “rule of law” and a fair marketplace that connects the buyers with the sellers/authors. So how does an author find or create a marketplace? They go to a publisher…who takes sometimes only a fair share. They do the marketing, open up their distribution channels and connects the work product with the consumer via a transaction. Price to high, too difficult to buy, can’t find…no revenue.

    Customer’s environment: So what if, the demand for paper based content goes away (it will some day…2050 maybe). So do we print on paper anyway? Do we put it on bookshelves based stores and not Amazon? Refuse to sell on the Kindle? You can do all of those things…but don’t whine about not making a fair return on your creative effort. If it remains in inventory…noboby reads it, nobody wins.

    The point is the reader ALSO needs to be assured that the content they want will be assessable in a way that meets their needs (not the publishers). Forcing teenagers to use albums instead of making mixes on a blank cassette will work just as well as forcing the next generation to use paper based products. BTW, the record industry settled the suit re: cassette recorders by creating a royalty pool from the sale of blank tapes. It was distributed (I believe) based on a formula related to the proportion earned of radio royalties.

    So, the solution is to embrace the web (its technologies and business models) wholeheartedly. If I were an author, I would find a way to use Google as my “publisher”. Maybe Google should buy Barnes & Noble and compete with Amazon.

    I don’t know what the future model will look like, but just as newspapers, World Book and Readers Digest are failing because they didn’t adjust their product and distribution (reaching out and serving the customers instead of themselves) so too will any product if the consumer/benefactor of the product is ignored.

    Video Skype is my choice to call my daughter in Japan, not Verizon. Why? I buy electronic gear online, because its convenient, cheaper and because I trust online opinions more than I trust Circuit City sales people, particularly after they fired the experienced ones!

    We’re in transition, the winners will be those that embrace the future not circle the wagons to hold on to the past. “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is” (Gretsky)

  2. Post Script:
    9/3/09 Boston Globe reports Cushing Academy removes all (20,000+) books from library and replaces with digital acess to over 1 million.
    9/13/09 Wash Post argues that Universities are being disaggregated just as newspapers were beginning with Internet. Classes (articles) being available from multiple Universities (newspapers) direct to the user.

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