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Legal Experts Say Google Library Digitization Project Likely OK; Will It Revolve Around Snippets?

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Courts Unlikely To Stop Google Book Copying from InternetWeek has legal experts saying that copyright law over indexing books appears to be on Google's side. Of less concern is whether Google actually gets permission to do copying. More weight is applied to the economic impact on the copyright holder and the amount of material used in proportion to the whole. But don't they use all the book? Yes, they scan all the book but they show little without explicit permission (for more, see our past Another Google Book Scanning Debate & Another Publisher Group Objects post). The InternetWeek article is a great look at some of the issues involved. My favorite part:

"If copyright law worked the way Google would like to see it working, then everyone in the world would be able to use the material unless the copyright holder explicitly told them not to, and even then it would be OK," says Allan Adler, the vice president for legal and government affairs for the Association of American Publishers. "That would be a very strange copyright system."

As I've said before, that's exactly how things currently work with web indexing. The Association Of American Publishers doesn't appear to have minded Google indexing nearly 800 pages from the site over the years without permission, all of which have copyright protection. But books apparently are different.

To be fair, books are different in the sense that most web sites don't earn money by selling their content. They typically earn by carrying ads. Book sellers do have legitimate fears that online book searching might lead to less sales -- and that appears a factor that will be key in any dispute. It would have to be proven.

But say I'm looking for a particular fact. I search for a book using Google Print. I find that there's a book that appears to match, but since the publisher hasn't given Google what I'd call "display" permission as opposed to "indexing" permission, I can't see the answer. Harm? Hard to show. Benefit? Easier to show. I didn't know this book might have an answer I needed. Now I do, and I might go get it.

One lawyers in the article makes exactly this argument in the latter part of the story, dealing with past case law that will likely be applied.

Here's the exception. What if I can see the answer? Look here. That illustrates how without explicit display permission, Google will show only a few lines or "snippets" of information. But if the answer I want is in the snippet, then it is easier to show harm. I no longer may need to buy the book. Imagine a book about computer game tricks and tips. If I can see the tip in the snippet, I may solve my problem and save my money.

One solution might be to completely eliminate snippet display for books without copyrighted permission. Some web sites can argue the same, that having snippets might mean people don't come to them, of course. But Google already provides a way for site owners to turn off snippets. That's an opt-out thing. Perhaps with Google Print, showing even snippets will need to be an opt-in situation.


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