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August 12, 2005
Siva Vaidhyanathan: Google Is Right to Hit Pause on Library Plans
Siva Vaidhyanathan responds to Aaron Swartz's post below on Google's decision to press pause on the Google Print library project in order to allow publishers to opt out of scanning:
Google did not have the right to make wholesale copies of millions of copyrighted books without permission from the copyright holders. Google's original plan fails every possible fair use test ever tried. See, for example, American Geophysical Union v. Texaco.
If copyright is to mean anything at all, then corporations may not copy entire works that they have never purchased without permission for commercial gain. I can't imagine what sort of argument -- short of copyright nihilism -- would justify such a radical change in copyright law. [...]
If the University of Michigan wanted to do this copying for its own patrons, then it certainly could. I wish more libraries would push their rights under copyright. But corporations do not have the same leeway as libraries. Libraries work for us. Corporations work for themselves. [...]
So I am very pleased that Google has decided to work with publishers (like it said it would originally) to convince them that offering their text in searchable form is good business for all. I still have some major problems with the contracts that these libraries signed with Google. I think the libraries are getting played badly here and they are violating their own principles of openness and public service by letting Google take charge and set the terms of this service.
Google might be a very good corporation -- one of the best ever, probably. But it's still not a library. Let's try to remember that.
Update: Aaron is updating his post with new developments
, including providing a link to BoingBoing's round-up of reactions
Update #2: Derek Slater offers an impassioned rebuttal to Siva's argument:
[The] caselaw doesn't amount to what Siva implies it does. Though it's only a brief citation, it seems Siva seriously misreads American Geophysical Union v. Texaco. The court didn't rule against Texaco because it was a corporation. In fact, the appeals court specifically disagreed with the district court's "undue emphasis" on the for-profit nature of Texaco.
We can put aside caselaw and go to straight-up normative analysis - Siva thinks that this Google Print is bad, bad, bad. What I see is gross hyperbole. What Google's doing is nothing like widespread infringing file-sharing on P2P. Sure, they're copying the entire book, but they're only providing small selections. I don't see how that amounts to a "copyright meltdown." (I know that you can try to do different searches to over time accumulate the whole book, but Google does enough to frustrate that, I think.)
Libraries good, corporations bad doesn't ring true for me. Without a doubt, I'm glad that people are becoming more skeptical of Google, despite their "we're not evil" mantra. However, in this case, Google was providing an important public service, one that happened to benefit the company commercially, but one that also did not pose a serious threat to copyright holders (in fact, it probably would help them), and for those reasons I think Google Print should be lawful.
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