Say what you like about the Google Books Kool-Aid, but it tastes much better than Microsoft’s sour grapes
by Paul Carr on August 22, 2009
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But one aspect of the settlement wasn’t so uncontroversial, and that was the issue of so-called ‘orphan works’ – books which are still in copyright but where the identity of the copyright owner is, for one reason or another, unclear. As part of the settlement, the book industry agreed that, with certain restrictions, Google could scan orphan works without being held liable for breach of copyright claims if the rights owner subsequently came forward. In return Google agreed to create an independent (and open to all) rights registry letting authors of orphaned stake their copyright claim.
At first glance, the deal over orphaned works seems as reasonable as the rest of the settlement – these are books for which no-one is being paid and which otherwise would be hidden away in libraries and second hand bookstores. But still Google’s competitors are crying foul.
The Internet Archive is particularly annoyed, arguing that they too are scanning millions of books for the public good, but without any blanket copyright protection for orphaned works. And so, through a group they call Open Content Alliance, they hope to pressure the Department of Justice to extend the terms of the settlement to everyone, not just Google.
For the other companies joining the Alliance – including Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon – there are more obvious and nakedly commercial reasons to oppose the settlement. But that doesn’t make their objections less valid. Back in April, Erick Schonfeld wrote a passionate – and compelling – argument for the immunity to apply to everyone so that Google wouldn’t have a monopoly position where they could effectively charge whatever they like for downloading digital copies of orphaned works.
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It would seem we need a law change. If you even believe in “imaginary property”. (It seems absurd to call what the congress critters pass “a law”. Now the Law of Gravity; that’s a LAW!)
When a book goes OOP (Out Of Print), or is otherwise “hidden” from the public, it should enter the public domain. Wasn’t the purpose of copyright law to encourage sharing of “intellectual (imaginary) property”? When that sharing ceases, shouldn’t the protection?
Seems only fair to me.
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