Copyright Chat

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People Are Talking

The New York Times reported a few days ago that the RIAA and major P2P software companies are now talking.

Though the P2Pers are rather hush-hush about it, these discussions are essentially centered around the RIAA telling these folks, “Would you like to be sued into oblivion or not?” Since the RIAA knows where they live, they’re talking.

The reaction of the P2P world seems to be, “Big deal, we’ll go open source, and then you can’t catch us, nyah, nyah, nyah.”

These folks don’t seem to realize that anybody responsible for making or distributing such programs will be just as liable for lawsuits (and criminal prosecutions will become more likely, too).

Yes, this will be cat-and-mouse, to some degree, it will be whack-a-mole, but what the P2Pers don’t realize is that the mouse-chasing and whacking will inevitably move P2Ping further and further away from the mainstream. For instance, if P2Ping programs aren’t easily available for download, far fewer casual users will get their hands on them.

These actions will serve to deflate the networks. Not collapse them, deflate them.

A continually harassed, harried network of any time is bound to be less effective than one that is not. Ask al-Queda.

The choices aren’t complete elimination or complete tolerance. After all, there certainly is illegal commercial copying of CDs and DVDs.

However, common sense will tell you that there will a lot less of anything when participants are being chased after by the law than when they aren’t. People certainly continue to steal, injure and kill despite long-standing laws against all these actions.

But imagine how many there would be if there weren’t such laws.

Is Google A Thief?

The Author’s Guild is suing Google to prevent them scanning copyrighted books.

Google is scanning the contents of several major libraries in its “Google Library” program. These libraries contain books that are and are not covered by copyright.

If the book is under public domain, Google will let you read the whole thing. No one has a problem with that.

If the copyright owner agrees to join the “Print Publisher Program,” Google will let users see the entire page on which a search term is located, plus a couple pages before and after. There will be links to where the book can be bought, and optionally, if ads are placed on such pages, Google will share ad revenues with the copyright owner.

If the copyright owner doesn’t join the Publisher Program, Google will let users see a couple sentences around a search term, and that’s it. Google will not pay the copyright owner anything for that.

If the copyright owner doesn’t want even that, Google is providing an opt-out program.

Google thinks it’s being very reasonable about this. Go here for a pro-Google discussion of this program.

If you want to see what the Author’s Guild has to say about this, go here

This is a subject upon which reasonable men can disagree; there are no obvious angels or devil here, yet.

The Google position basically says, “What we’re doing with these copyrighted text is fair use, so we don’t have to pay anybody.”

Well . . . . that’s stretching fair use quite a bit, and I’ll explain why with an example.

Let’s say somebody writes a book called, “How To Overclock.” Let’s say I review it, and quote a paragraph or two as illustrations in that review. That is a fair use of the book well-established in law.

Let’s say I review the book, and quote an entire chapter of the book. That would almost certainly not be considered a fair use of the book.

Let’s say I scanned the book, and as part of the review, allowed you to search the whole book for keywords and let you see a couple sentences around any keyword in the book. I’m no longer using a little set piece of the book; I’m making the whole book available. It’s quite possible that if you’re just looking for a particular fact or two or three, my limited search will be good enough for your purposes.

Is that fair use? That’s an arguable point. You certainly wouldn’t want to read Lord of the Rings two sentences at a time, but if you want to find out about a certain memory chip mentioned in a book, a couple sentences at a time might be fine.

Whichever side you fall on, it’s certainly a new, different kind of fair use than just a short quote that never changes.

The Author’s Guild doesn’t object to Google quoting from their works; they object to not getting paid for it. Indeed, they flat out say that they would like Google to do a lot more than what they plan to do:

“With a proper license, in fact, far more than “snippets” could be made available to users. The opportunities are boundless, but it all starts with a valid license.”

Free Vs. Good

There’s no doubt the Author’s Guild has its hand out, but there’s much more at stake here than if or how much somebody should get paid to two or three sentence blurbs.

What’s at stake is the future of published content and libraries themselves.

As it stands now, Google Library will be a paraplegic library, practically useless to all but a relative handful of people. Let me put it this way, how often would you go to a library that didn’t have anything written after 1930? For the vast, vast majority of research, Google Library will be nothing more than a different kind of card catalogue, better in that you can search for books, worse in that the books you find aren’t there and you have to go elsewhere to find them.

Would it be better if Google Library had the books, too? A lot better?

Do you seriously think your descendants or even you are going to be using books a hundred or even fifty years from now?

No digital library is going to be much good until recent, copyrighted works become available. And that’s not going to happen until authors get paid.

If you insist on free, all you’re going to end up with is a lot of nothing.

The Author’s Guild is insisting on getting paid, while hinting that they’ll give all the access you could want for the right price.

Google ought to find out what that price is: the price for complete access.

Because sometime, somewhere, somebody’s going to have to get that ball rolling.

It may well be that the Author’s Guild (or other groups of copyright holders) will be unreasonable about this. History suggests that they will be. It certainly will be a complex subject where “one rule fits all” won’t work; you can’t treat the latest bestseller the same way as a fifty-year old technical manual.

If copyright holders are unreasonable, then Google doesn’t really lose anything by finding out, but gains in the public eye by flushing the other guys out, and the lawsuit over snippets can go on its merry way.

But if even just some are reasonable, serious researchers will be more than happy to pay a reasonable fee to do their work from home (or have their educational organization pay it for them as part of their tuition). It certainly would be better than going through books manually.

There’s a lot of ways this could evolve; all that is clear now is that something will inevitably evolve, sooner or later. The gains to humanity from a virtual library are so big to make it so.

In the long run, it may well end up being something that government will have to mandate and establish for digital access to universally apply. It may well end up eventually that paying for it, in part or all, may become a task of government.

But nothing will happen until we (and maybe Google, too) get past this notion that only whatever is “free” is acceptable. Sorry, but this is merely Hippie 2.0. Nothing is free; somebody always pays, directly or indirectly.

And a lot of things are worth paying for.

Ed

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