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May 31, 2005

A Whole New Meaning for I'm Going to the Library

 
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The Institute for Policy Innovation takes intellectual property seriously.  When a credible threat to intellectual property rights emerges, IPI wants to consider the allegations.

So when copyright infringement concerns were raised recently by some academic publishers about Google’s proposed online library that would make available copies of books through the Internet, and thus to anyone in the world with Internet access, we wanted to look at the issues more closely.

According to the Associated Press, the Association of American University Presses — 125 nonprofit publishers of academic books and journals — asked Google to respond to 16 questions in an effort to get more clarity about the project.  

The AP quotes the association’s executive director as saying, “The more we talked about it with our lawyers,  the more questions bubbled up.”

For its part, Google says it is scanning some of the works of five of the world’s top libraries and only posting books that are in the “public domain” (i.e., the copyright has expired).  “For library books still in copyright, you’ll be able to find the book in your search result, but we will only display bibliographic information and a few short snippets of the book,” says a Google press release from 2004.

So let’s think this thing through.

Public libraries buy public domain and copywrited books and make both available to the public free.  And while it may be technically forbidden, people — especially students — check out the books and often make copies of certain pages for later use.  Attempts at trying to profit from the photocopied pages are very rare.

What Google is doing is more ambitious than the typical library, but the underlying principle seems to be the same.  

Of course, as a for-profit company, Google might benefit indirectly.  The media attention and goodwill created by the library could boost investors’ image of the company and lead to more advertising or higher stock prices.  But would such potential for indirect profit mean the venture should be scuttled?

Until more is revealed about why the academic publishers think Google may be infringing their copyrights, I think we have to fall on the side of the company that is willing to spend millions of its own dollars to make countless books available to people around the world.

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