Google Print

I haven't written specifically about Google Print (although I've alluded to it a couple of times), but I thought, hey, better late than never.

There are literally millions of posts all over the Web about this, so I won't bore you with a recap. What I will do is ask a question that has been bothering me and that keeps me from fanboying about Google Print.

First, some back story. In college, I had more than one professor who chose to use a text that wasn't in print anymore. What this usually meant was photocopies of the pages of the book in question from the university library. If I made the copies (and didn't get called out for copying "too much" of the book), the library staff didn't seem to mind. However, if the professor did so (or his staff) and handed those copies out to the students, that had to be cleared for all the copyright BS, as if the University were reprinting the entire book. (There was some arbitrary threshold if I remember correctly.) It basically boiled down to a huge legal mess if the professor needed to use the text. Some did, some didn't. In the "didn't" case, the class was basically left to their own devices to obtain the text as they could.

Google claims that scanning (copying), running OCR, and shoving all the text of these books into their database is fair use. Many claim this should be so because it furthers society somehow (I'm not contending that). For example, David Weinberger says " a citizen who wants to live in an ever smarter world, I hope Google Print goes ahead." Ok, I can buy that. But if University professors, who certainly are making the world smarter, can't do essentially the same thing as Google wants to do without paying their dues, why is Google suddenly exempt from those rules?

Until someone gives me a clear answer to that, I can't fault any author that raises an objection. Don't get me wrong, I think a Google Print-like service is inevitable, but why do we have to strongarm people into the system if they don't want to? Enough people are dying to get in (*hand up*); Google is wrong to use their muscle to force anything down people's throats.


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