Monday, May 23, 2005

Libraries Break My Heart.

Libraries and librarians, I love you because you're so radical, believing all information should be freely available to everyone. University presses, German conglomerates, web browsers, professors, students, you love us all equally and fiercely.

Libraries and librarians, I have given you all of my grown-up days. I work to fill your shelves. I can't forget the squeak of the cart wheel, full of books for shelving. I can't forget the bump of spines as I read along to make sure everything was still in order. I can't forget the crack of dried glue and the smell of musty ink, books that haven't been opened in decades. And now, I work to give you books that I hope you will love.

Of course, I knew all along you had other lovers, and I was fine with that. You draw everyone who loves words to you.

But how could you let Google talk you into this? Giving Google all your books to scan and make available for searching?

Libraries and librarians, what happened? Don't you love authors? Don't you love publishers? Don't you love copyright law?

Copyright--literally, the right to make copies. The only person who has that right is the author. She might assign that right to her publisher, give it to the publisher to hold onto for as long as the book's in print, but it's hers. She, or the publisher she's asked to decide for her, is the only person who can say who can make copies of her book.

You don't get to decide that Google can make copies of your books that are still under copyright protection. It doesn't matter how well-meaning Google is, and I believe their intentions are honorable, copyright law isn't just to protect us against bad guys. It's to protect us from the likes of you, who mean well, but are wrong.

But, but, but you say, it'll work to everyone's benefit. Whole libraries' collections will be searchable online, but the copyright protected materials will not be free. Readers will only get a snippet, and have to pay to see the whole thing. There will be links, you say, to publishers' websites, so that readers can purchase the books if they want.

Work to everyone's benefit or not, it's not your decision to make. Who's contacted the copyright holders and asked them if they want to participate? How can you say you love books and knowledge if you have no respect for the people who write those books?

I'm very ashamed of you and Google. Peter Givler at the AAUP has some hard questions for Google, which they have not yet answered, but I wonder how you would respond. When he asks, "How can the libraries claim these copies have been lawfully acquired?" we both know you can't.

It's true, I'm a strong advocate of 'fair use' and I believe scholars have a moral obligation to interpret the boundaries of 'fair use' generously. I'm also a great lover of public domain, and it pisses me off that, for all practical purposes, things have stopped entering the public domain.

And, maybe you also are angry that Disney has successfully stopped the flow of intellectual property into the intellectual commons, and this is your crazy stand, where you liberate all intellectual property and give it to everyone. You haven't said that, though.

Or maybe you think this is "fair use" because you've convinced yourself that it won't hurt the market. But there's never been a case in which reproducing a whole book without permission, let alone the contents of a whole library, have been considered 'fair use.' In fact, it's the unlawful reproduction of whole works that copyright law was first designed to stop.

It's unbelievable to me that a handful of university libraries and Google would decide that they don't have to consider the rights of the author. Who would have thought that we'd ever see a day when two institutions whose whole reason for existence depends on the written word would declare war on the author?


Blogger the Professor said...

After reading Givler's letter, I am firmly in agreement with you, Aunt B. But it seems to me that even if some librarians agree with Google's project, it's not up to them to grant permission and decide legality. What most concerns me is that they are supporting something so unclear. Givler's questions were substantial. How could anyone involved in or related to publishing even consider backing something so unclear that could devastate their future?

Of course, I ask the same thing about many people, poor & minorities especially, who vote Republican.

5/24/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Right, the libraries can't grant permission. That's what's got the publishers all up in arms. It might be a great idea (and I think it is, potentially) but it's really scary that Google and the libraries have decided that they can just do this without consulting the people who own the materials.

5/24/2005 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger prorata said...

I say this as a lover of libraries and a lover of books. Digitization will only lead to increased sales of books. I've seen it happen with me and every single person I've pointed to a free ebook. But you don't have to take my word for it.

5/24/2005 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...


I don't have to take your word for it because I already know it's true. Digitization certainly does lead to increased sales, even giving away free ebooks. You only have to look to the National Academies Press to see that. They've had great success with making their books available for free on their website. They've seen huge increased sales of books.

That's not my point.

No matter how much it might potentially increase sales, neither Google nor these libraries have the right to choose, without the permission of the copyright holders, to do it--even if it benefits the copyright holders.

I can't decide that the Ben & Jerry's up the street would have increased sales if free Ben & Jerry's samples were available and go into the store, steal their ice cream, and stand out on the corner giving away the samples.

Even if it drives sales to their store, it doesn't make my stealing from them okay. Even if they occassionally stand out front of their store and give away ice cream, it doesn't make stealing from them okay.

This is the same thing. Even if making materials available electronically increases sales of physical books, it's not for people who don't hold the copyright to decide what to do with the materials.

I don't see how you can't see what an affront it is to the author, this assumption from the libraries in question and Google, that they know best what the author needs.

It's well within the author's power to release her work into the public domain or to take the more limited step of the "some rights reserved" creative commons license, so, if she hasn't done so, we have to respect that decision--even if we think it's short-sighted or misguided.

To do otherwise is really insulting and obviously illegal.

So, I wonder, since there are ways for the libraries and Google to do this legally and with taking into consideration the wishes of the authors, how can you possibly defend them not doing so?

5/25/2005 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger prorata said...

I don't have time to respond to your comment at length, unfortunately. I will say that copyright violation is not equivalent to stealing, no matter how publishers and other middle men would like to make it so. For more on this issue, please see "Code and other Laws of Cyberspace" by Lawrence Lessig. Best Regards!

5/25/2005 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Lessing? Maybe when the second edition of his book comes out, you can make me an electronic copy and I'll post it here and we can discuss it.

I kid.

5/25/2005 09:53:00 PM  

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