Google Kicks Copyright Holders’ Butts

A Federal judge today dismissed the Authors Guild’s lawsuit over Google’s library book scanning project which has been in litigation for the last eight years.

Many of the books scanned by Google were under copyright, and Google did not obtain permission from the copyright holders its use of their copyrighted works, leading to the class action suit charging Google with copyright infringement.

In dismissing the case, reports Publishers Weekly, the judge enthusiastically praised Google’s project. The full text of the decision is here.

The judge was impressed with the technology in place to allow online users to look at snippets why preventing them from acquiring a complete copy of a scanned book.

Google takes security measures to prevent users from viewing a complete copy of a snippet-view book. For example, a user cannot cause the system to return different sets of snippets for the same search query; the position of each snippet is fixed within the page and does not “slide” around the search term; only the first responsive snippet available on any given page will be returned in response to a query; one of the snippets on each page is “black-listed,” meaning it will not be shown; and at least one out of ten entire pages in each book is black-listed…

An “attacker” who tries to obtain an entire book by using a physical copy of the book to string together words appearing in successive passages would be able to obtain at best a patchwork of snippets that would be missing at least one snippet from every page and 10% of all pages…. In addition, works with text organized in short “chunks,” such as dictionaries, cookbooks, and books of haiku, are excluded from snippet view.

And the judge said that Google satisfied the “fair use” standard of the copyright law.

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

Similarly, Google is entitled to summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ claims based on the copies of scanned books made available to libraries. Even assuming plaintiffs have demonstrated a prima facie case of copyright infringement, Google’s actions constitute fair use here as well. Google provides the libraries with the technological means to make digital copies of books that they already own. The purpose of the library copies is to advance the libraries’ lawful uses of the digitized books consistent with the copyright law. The libraries then use these digital copies in transformative ways.

They create their own full-text searchable indices of books, maintain copies for purposes of preservation, and make copies available to print-disabled individuals, expanding access for them in unprecedented ways. Google’s actions in providing the libraries with the ability to engage in activities that advance the arts and sciences constitute fair use.

The Authors Guild said it plans to appeal the ruling. Its president, Paul Aiken told Publishers Weekly, “Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

Guarding Google’s Data

Huffington Post reports the new GoogleData Centers site tells you about their eight facilities worldwide, while 360-degree Street View Images takes you inside the company’s vast Lenoir, NC center.

Pace the virtual halls at Lenoir long eough and you’ll find several cute surprises — like a Star Wars stormtrooper standing guard over a row of computers. Just don’t dwell on the sight too long or you’ll find yourself wondering if that’s a sign of tyrannical oppression or a foredoomed security measure.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

Huge Damages Asked by Authors Guild in Google Suit

Google is a number with lots of zeros. And if The Authors Guild has its way, the company famously named for that number will be paying a figure with plenty of zeros in damages for illegally copying books.

Publishers Weekly reports if the court grants the Authors Guild’s recent motion for summary judgment the minimum statutory damage award — $750 per infringement – on as many as four million books still under U.S. copyright could add up to more than $1 billion.

The Authors Guild and Google lately traded motions for summary judgment in the suit now almost seven years old. They spent three of those years pushing a settlement with authors and publishers that was ultimately rejected by the judge in March 2011. The judge’s ruling against the settlement did not need to address the copyright claims that the case is really about, but a Publishers Weekly analyst now expects the case to deliver a “precedent-setting fair use verdict.”

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]

Testing Google Ngram

Google’s new data-visualization tool Ngram Viewer searches datasets of 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish to tell how frequently selected words or phrases have appeared from year to year.

Wanting to put this tool through its faanish paces I searched “sci-fi” but got zero hits. So I tried searching for the name of the most famous fan of all time, “Forry Ackerman.” There were lots and lots of references to Forry, all when and where you’d expect them to be – nothing requiring any analysis.

That changed when I searched for “fanzine”. A little blip right at the beginning of the graph showed an occurrence of the word around the year 1810. What was this? Evidence of time travel? Or maybe someone once coined “fanzine” as a technical term, long since forgotten? Patrick O’Brien readers know what a vast, specialized vocabulary there is for sailing ships alone and every other line of work presumably had its own.

Ngram Viewer allowed me to drill down to the page where it found “fanzine” – a page from a 19th century edition of Plutarch’s Lives. And no, Plutarch had nothing to say about fanzines. What Ngram Viewer actually had found was “Fanguine,” which is the word “sanguine” rendered in the typography of the time when the character used for the letter “s” sometimes resembled the letter “f”.

Can you come up with your own creative uses for Ngram Viewer? I look forward to hearing your stories.

Google Honors Pac-Man 30th Anniversary

It was 30 years ago today that Pac-Man started gobbling your quarters. Google, which regularly features header art celebrating a theme or event, is commemorating the birth of the famous video game with a free interactive version on the Google home page.

Hit the “Insert Coin” button below the search window and the game will begin. You direct Pac-Man where you want him to go by placing your cursor ahead of him and clicking.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Dick Family Threatens to Sue Google

Is the name of Google’s new Nexus One phone sufficiently similar to the Nexus 6 cyborgs from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to warrant a lawsuit by Philip K. Dick’s heirs?

The late author’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett thinks so, according to a report in the London Telegraph. The family has sent Google a letter demanding the company cease using the name.  

Google responds that it has merely named a phone after a common word that means “a place where things converge” — a choice of name unrelated to the novel.

But Isa Dick Hackett contends:

“Google takes first and then deals with the fallout later… In my mind, there is a very obvious connection to my father’s novel. People don’t get it. It’s the principle of it. It would be nice to have a dialogue. We are open to it. That’s a way to start.”

[Thanks to Moshe Feder and “Natty Bumpo” for components of this story. And no, I don’t know why “Natty” needs to use a pseud…]

Taral Wayne: Defending Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s resignation from the Authors Guild over its acceptance of the Google book search settlement has elicited all kinds of response, not all of it positive. One of the snarkier posts has brought Taral Wayne to her defense:

By Taral Wayne: I read a blogger who ridiculed Ursula Le Guin for writing a socialist utopia, The Dispossessed, and then complained about her property rights.

Perhaps if Ms. Le Guin could walk down the street and help herself to a free meal in any restaurant of her choosing, pick out furniture in a store without charge, and order all the books she likes from without getting billed, then she would be content to let freeloaders read her books. Whatever convictions Ms. Le Guin has or has not, she doesn’t live in a socialist utopia. She lives in the same world we do, and has to obey the same economic realities. That being the case, I see no incongruity in her asking her novels to be paid for, just like any other product or service.

As an artist, I create and sell “intellectual property” myself. Images are the easiest form of intellectual property to take from the creator and share around the internet, and it happens to me all the time. I try to take a balanced view of it. As long as it does not undermine my income, it may do me a little good to have my work shown around. I’d like to have more control of the process, but that’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, it does me little good when art is taken and posted somewhere without credit, as does happen. And the practice of pirating art also fosters a culture of entitlement to free access to intellectual properties that may not benefit creators in the long run.

The truth is, I don’t know what to hope for. For creators, there is a good side and a bad side to the internet. Which will prevail is impossible to say. I wouldn’t like to see the great paintings of the world locked up on pay-per-view sites operated by a handful of museums, or owned by Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither do I want to see a world in which no free-lance artist is every paid for his labours.

What is the middle ground? How do we provide openness to our culture, but not drive professional creators into amateur status?

LeGuin Quits Authors Guild
Over Google Settlement

Ursula LeGuin resigned from the Authors Guild on December 18 in protest of its acceptance of the amended Google book search settlement. The full text of the letter has been published on her website. LeGuin emphasized that she is continuing her membership in SFWA and the National Writers Union, both part of the  Open Book Alliance that opposes the settlement.

In October, after the Department of Justice advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York not to accept the proposed class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., the judge gave the parties another month to come up with an amended settlement. Then, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Though [Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers] kept the world waiting until the last legal minute, the parties to the proposed Google Book Search settlement managed to meet their new November 13 deadline to file a revamped version [Settlement 2.0 ]with the federal judge overseeing the case.

Now the legal clock has resumed ticking.

The Association of Research Libraries news reports that the Court set a January 28 deadline for class members to opt out of the amended settlement agreement or to file objections. The Department of Justice has until February 4 to file its comments. Then the Court will hold the fairness hearing on February 18.

LeGuin’s resignation from the Authors Guild came about a month after Settlement 2.0 was submitted to the judge. Her letter states:

18 December 2009

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

The Authors Guild answered that it regretted LeGuin’s resignation and admitted (in a summary published by the the Guardian):

that “in many respects” it agreed with her position. “We hold the principles of copyright to be fundamental – they are bedrock principles for the Authors Guild and the economics of authorship. That’s why we sued Google in the first place,” it said. “It would therefore have been deeply satisfying, on many levels, to litigate our case to the end and win, enjoining Google from scanning books and forcing it to destroy the scans it had made. It also would have been irresponsible, once a path to a satisfactory settlement became available.”

Offering to discuss the deal with Le Guin “at any time”, the writers’ body pointed out that if it had lost its case against Google, anyone, not just the search engine, could have digitised copyright-protected books and made them available online, prompting the “uncontrolled scanning of books” and “incalculable” damage to copyright protection. “The lessons of recent history are clear: when digital and online technologies meet traditional media, traditional media generally wind up gutted. Constructive engagement – in this case turning Google’s infringement to our advantage – is sometimes the only realistic solution,” it said.

There are many online resources about the amended settlement and objections made to it, among them The Public-Interest Book Search Initiative of the New York Law School’s “Objections to the Google Books Settlement and Responses in the Amended Settlement: A Report.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Justice: Google Search Settlement Unacceptable

The Department of Justice has advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York not to accept the proposed class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc. The agency’s September 18 press release explains:  

In its filing, the Department proposed that the parties consider a number of changes to the agreement that may help address the United States’ concerns, including imposing limitations on the most open-ended provisions for future licensing, eliminating potential conflicts among class members, providing additional protections for unknown rights holders, addressing the concerns of foreign authors and publishers, eliminating the joint-pricing mechanisms among publishers and authors, and, whatever the settlement’s ultimate scope, providing some mechanism by which Google’s competitors can gain comparable access.

The full text of the Department of Justice’s press release appears after the jump.

In the view of Publishers Weekly:

The blunt assessment means the the settlement is almost certainly headed back to the drawing board. In a silver lining, the DoJ recognized the potential value of a deal to facilitate book digitization, but said the current deal as written was not satisfactory.

The Open Book Alliance welcomed this development:

The Open Book Alliance is pleased with the action taken today by the Department of Justice, which we believe will help to protect the public interest and preserve competition and innovation. Despite Google’s vigorous efforts to convince them otherwise, the Department of Justice recognizes that there are significant problems with terms of the proposed settlement, which is consistent with the concerns voiced with the Court by hundreds and hundreds of other parties….

 [Thanks to Francis Hamit for the story.]

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Google of Books Going on Sale

Google Inc. announced September 17 that it will be offering for sale paper copies of 2 million books no longer protected by copyright, published by high-speed, print-on-demand Espresso Book Machines at campus bookstores, libraries and small retailers.

A cartoonist once called this “Letting the cat out of the cellophane bag.” It’s the beginning of what critics of the Google settlement have been expecting to happen. And:

Millions more titles could be added to On Demand’s virtual inventory if Google gets federal court approval of a class-action settlement that would grant it the right to sell copyrighted books no longer being published. Google estimates it already has made digital copies of about 6 million out-of-print books.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]