Friday, May 27, 2005

Peter Givler: Stupidity about copyright on a massive scale

So, Google wants to make every book in the world searchable, by digitizing them; and some publishers are mad:

At issue is whether Google Print for Libraries, the company's plan to digitize the collections of some of the country's major university libraries, infringes the copyrights of the authors of many books in those collections. . . .

In a letter to Google dated Friday, the details of which were first reported by BusinessWeek on Monday, Peter Givler, executive director of the press association, said that Google Print for Libraries "appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale."

I have one question for Peter Givler: How, exactly, do you think Google makes the web searchable?

Here's a hint: Google does not, contrary to what Givler may believe, have an infinite army of monkeys who click around in their web browsers looking for your phrase when you hit "Google Search". That would be pretty cool, but alas, infinite monkey armies are in short supply, and also monkeys can't read. Instead, Google has a copy of the entire web on its servers, indexed for fast retrieval based on content and link structure. Actually, Google keeps many, many copies of the entire web on its servers, just as every web search engine has done since hoary old Altavista. And almost all of this material is technically under copyright --- so does Peter Givler believe that Google's web index constitutes "systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale"? If so, is he willing to urge all members of the Association of American University Presses to boycott all Web search engines, since, after all, it would be immoral and hypocritical for them to patronize a service that so flagrantly disrespects copyright?

I mean, if you use arithmetic similar to that employed by the RIAA/MPAA in similar circumstances, the aggregate value of all the infringing copies of the web on web search engines must be staggering --- hundreds of billions of dollars at least, per copy. In fact, if you added up the value of all the "infringing" copies made by web search providers, then it would probably exceed the total monetary value of everything ever produced by every member of the AAUP by several orders of magnitude.

But, of course, the RIAA/MPAA's arithmetic is nonsense, and so is Peter Givler's allegation. Sorry, but building a digital, searchable, full-text index of every book is no more illegal than building a web search engine; or, for that matter, building a library card catalog.

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