Google Print Library going on hold over copyright is big news in our world. Copyfight followed up on the story. Of particular interest is the comments with people speculating on the copyright-kosherness of a publicly traded for-profit company freely scanning, copying and indexing content that is not owned by them without negotiating for rights. Other popular copyfighters Siva and Seth have worthwhile insights.
Siva “Once again, I think we should recognize that unless we think copyright should not exist, copyright holders should be able to decide when to license their works to other companies. This is far from absolute. But it’s common sense and generally true. Only in unusual circumstances, such as when markets fail to provide an essential public good, should we consider radical moves. This is not one of those cases. The service is not an essential public good — just a cool idea. And the market was not failing. Publishers were at the table…. Google messed up by going all unilateral on the publishers. There was no market failure here. Transaction costs were not prohibitive. They were working out the deal. This was not the recording industry shunning Napster. This was how copyright is supposed to work.”
Seth: Why is Google doing this book-scanning project? It’s not because it’s just so cool (even if it is). While coolness may justify a small-scale promotional project, the scanning efforts are expensive. So Google, as a company, obviously sees some value in the effort. This is not wrong. But it’s also a direct conflict with the granted monopoly know as copyright. Whenever there is value, particularly commercial value, there is conflict over who should be able to receive it.