Friday, September 4, 2009

Google Competing for Most Punkass Mega-Corp

So the other day, I'm listening to NPR as I drive through North Dakota and a segment comes on about the Google Books Settlement. What's that, you ask? Well, here's the sitch. A while back (2004, I think) Google decided to take a bunch of copyrighted material, scan it, and make it digitally available for the world to see... without notifying the rightsholders that they were doing this, asking permission or offering remuneration in the form of, oh, I dunno, maybe royalties? Bonus.

It's like Napster. If Napster were a MegaCorp who ought to freaking know better. This isn't some random college kid sharing files. This is Google. They have a freaking legal department. Where were all the lawyers? Out to lunch? Taking a cruise to the Bahamas together in some kind of high rent teambuilding exercise?

The Author's Guild and American Association of Publishers (two organizations composed of said rightsholders) exclaimed en masse, "WTF, yo!" and sued their sorry asses. Google was all, "Whoops! Were those your books?" and offered a settlement. Authors are automatically covered under this settlement whether they are members of the Author's Guild or not - unless they opt out (which must be done by TODAY, so you if you're an author feeling opty now's the time, boys and girls).

Anyway, the thing that cracked me up was a comment by the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin. Let's call him Sergey. So NPR chick asks Sergey the NPR equivalent of "Did it not occur to you to wait until you had permission to scan and distribute all this copyrighted material, you idiot?" And Sergey was all, "The library at Alexandria burned to the ground, dude! We must have backups and we must have them now!" (By the way, all "quotes" are not actually "quotes". I am enthusiastically "paraphrasing". If you want to read the "real story", you should GO HERE. But he really did throw out the library at Alexandria as an excuse. Classic.)

So yeah, Sergey is burning down the library at Alexandria. Therefore all knowledge must be digital knowledge! At this point, I would like to take Sergey aside and explain two very important concepts to him. We'll forget about copyright law for the moment, since he's more concerned about the good of humanity(authors not being members of humanity, har har).

Concept #1: The Printing Press. I know, I know, this is a new fangled technology and new technologies can be intimidating. We're all used to books being hand-written on scrolls and stored in one location, but the times, they are a'changing, boys and girls. That wacky Guttenburg. What the heck was he thinking? You mean now we can actually make more than one copy of a book? There might be a large "print run". Oooooh. Aaaaah. And those multiple copies will be stored in several different places... like libraries and bookstores across the country, nay, the world! In such a wide variety of locations, in fact, that should all of those texts burn up in a fire, we will have much bigger problems (APOCALYPSE!!!) and I'm betting the internet will be down too. No offense, Sergey, but how is your search engine going to function when we have no electricity because the zombies have demolished our technological infrastructure? Huh?

Concept #2: The Library of Congress. Nifty place. They do this thing where they keep a copy of every book. Ever. Seriously. How cool is that? So... oddly enough, all this information is stored in one place. And you're right, Sergey, that it isn't a digital place, but The Library of Congress is also not being sued by a buttload of really pissed off people whose rights they violated in a massive way.

I don't have a problem with the digitization of information. I actually think it's a pretty great goal. A lot of academic writers would just as soon see their books reach an internet audience. Books that are out of copyright? By all means, digitize those puppies. It's the fact that no effort was made to even locate the rightsholders of books that are currently still in copyright to establish whether they would like them to be available for free on Google. That bugs me.

There's this nifty thing. It's a copyright page. Right in the front of the book you're illegally scanning. It tells you who the copyright holder is. Track that person down, send them an email, find out if it's okay with them. You can't find them? Huh. That's odd. The publishers pretty much all have web sites. And the authors? Most of them do too. Maybe you should try Googling them. It's your fricking search engine.


Vivant said...

Gee, I wonder whether Google included the copyright page when they digitized the books...

Vivi Andrews said...

Heh. You would think, wouldn't you? Maybe the folks doing the scanning can't read? They don't know the difference between a copyright page and a forward?

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Well said! Bravo! That wacky Guttenburg!!! The whole time you were decimating Sergey and the poor library at Alexandria (I mean, come on. Let's get real here. Couldn't the guy find something in, say, the same millenia?), you cracked me up. Thanks for the info and the smile, Sister.

Cate Rowan said...

LMAO, Vivi! Although I love da Google apps, thanks for giving Sergey a fabulous and much-deserved smack.