Saturday, October 10, 2009

Google Books - Satan's Library...

...or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet.

The Google Book Project has been controversial since it first began in October, 2004. My intention with this post, my last guest blawging here, is to give a very brief synopsis of the issues that are causing such consternation and to point out some of the more interesting arguments that are being presented. If it seems that I am in anyway biased towards Google that's because I am, I'd love to work in Google's legal department, and I love it when stuff is free (I have a long held belief that if you're paying for anything online then you're being robbed). Also, in 2007, while I was a student in University College Cork, I authored a paper entitled "Don't Be Evil - The Google 'Book Search' Project". The paper dealt with an examination of Google's "Book Search" Project and whether it would pass a "fair use" copyright test. I was pretty proud of my work, and it was even shortlisted for the prestigious Matheson Ormsby Prentice Undergraduate Prize in Information Technology Law. As a result, I have tried to keep an eye on the Project.


The primary issue that has everyone talking in recent months is Google's controversial deal to scan and digitize in copyright, but out of print works, including "orphan" works, i.e. works where it is almost impossible to identify the copyright holder(1). This has lead to investigations by the US government over their concern about the possibility of a Google monopoly over "orphan" works, and also generated a great deal of consternation amongst Google's rivals: Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo.


Those against the deal argue that Google will have an inordinate amount of control over an enormous volume of information and that what is needed is strict regulation of this kind of activity(2). While those in favour of the deal are keen to point out that if Google has the resources and the capability to save "orphan" works then it should, even if the motivation is profit(3).


As I stated in the conclusion to my paper, "After all, as George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future”, and Google could be said to be going a long way towards this end... Similarly it could be seen as creating the need for more responsibility from corporations such as Google, who are now effectively acting as the stewards of information for the public. But these worries might well be unfounded seeing as Google believes, at least informally, in the phrase: “Don’t be evil”.

Today, I would argue that more regulation is never a good thing (most governments aren't able to use the regulations already in place, let alone cluttering up the law libraries with even more). However, keeping a watchful eye on Google should be encouraged, and when I look at the debate that the deal has created I admit to smiling a little, because if Google does become evil in the future then thanks to the internet everyone is going to know about it.

You can find a copy of my paper HERE


(1) "Orphan" Works, Wikipedia Entry,

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  1. Hi Rory!

    Thanks for the post >> and for blawgging here!

    Quick Q on the Google Book project: how does Google make money? Particularly on orphaned books?

  2. Here's a quote from Google's Book Search FAQ:

    "revenue from the sale of subscriptions, consumer online purchase, advertising, and per-page printing at Public Access Service terminals"



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