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.]

Gagging on Google

It wasn’t so long ago that people’s only thought after seeing the Google name was “There’s a company with a fabulous search engine.” Period.

A little later, people envied the fun Google employees had thinking up more cool ways to organize and distribute information. Like digitizing all the books in the world. Or photographing all the streets in the world.

But once Google actually did these projects, fun wasn’t the first word to come to people’s minds.

Instead, it was “Lawsuit,” or the latest controversy over the Google Book Search Settlement.

And “Spies.” In a small English town a photographer for Google Street View was suspected of having exactly the same kind of “fun” enjoyed by agents of the KGB, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times:

The good folk of Broughton don’t take kindly to being photographed without permission. Just ask Google.

When the search-engine giant sent one of its specially equipped cars to take pictures of the village for its Street View feature, residents swung into action. They stopped the car in its tracks, called the police and quizzed the bewildered driver for nearly two hours before letting him go.

Many Swiss have complained too. No wonder:

In one image, a married Swiss politician was photographed with a blond who was not his wife, which forced him to explain publicly that the woman was his secretary. In another case, a Street View image was reprinted in a newspaper, and “as a result, a restaurant owner had to explain how he was photographed in a known drug-dealing area,” said [Hanspeter Thuer, the Swiss federal data-protection commissioner].

The way Google has handled this inevitably makes it sound quite sinister. Yet if Google handled things a bit differently I bet the tide would turn in its favor.

What if, instead of surreptitiously driving through towns taking photographs, Google Street View advertised its route in advance? People endure all kinds of abuse on reality shows so they can say “Hey Ma, I’m on TV!” Allow people to snatch a little piece of fame with no more inconvenience than standing in their front yard at a certain time and the number who’ll be pleased by the arrangement will swamp the few who object — particularly because anyone who is someplace he shouldn’t be will be warned to duck out of sight when the camera rolls by.