You are here

Weekly Standard: "Google and its Enemies" -- a great article on Google's Kleptomania in Digital Books

The Weekly Standard's cover story this week is "Google and its enemies -- the much hyped project to digitize 32 million books sounds good. why are so many people taking shots at it?"

  • It's a very good in-depth look at one ambitious aspect of Google's legendary kleptomania of intellectual property.
  • It also has some very insightful commentary about what this all means for Google's business model.

The article explains that Google is currently undertaking the most ambitious book copying project in human history, looking to scan 32 million books over ten years at an estimated cost of $800m.

  • The most important rub of the article is that 75% of books that Google plans to scan are out of print, but still under copyright protection.
    • Google is copying them without prior explicit permission and is claiming they have "fair use" rights to copy the books for searching.
    • In stark contrast, all of Google's competitors in scanning books are only scanning books after securing the owner's explicit permission/license to do so.
  • Another important rub of the article is that Google's lack of openness and transparency in search creates concerns and distrust that Google may not be "objective" in serving up books to search inquiries.
    • Translation: some scholars, like Jean Noel Jeanneney, France's former national chief Librarian, (who wrote a book on this problem) sees a strongly American and english discrimination bias in Google's book copying project.

What I found most interesting was the writer, Jonathan V. Last, had great clarity of thought in evaluating Google's business model. His outstanding writing cuts to the quick of why so many people find Google and its IP kleptomania so disturbing:

  • "Google’s corporate philosophy is based on the model which brought them success: organizing and giving away other people’s content, creating space for advertisements in the process."...

  • "In the Google worldview, content is individually valueless. No one page is more important than the next; the value lies in the page view. And a page view is a page view, regardless of whether the page in question has a picture of a cat, a single link to another site, or the full text of Freakonomics. When all you’re selling is ad space, the value shifts from the content to the viewer. And ultimately the content is valued at nothing." ...

  • "In the world of books, it is the ideas and the authors that matter most, not the readers. That is why the copyright exists in the first place, to protect the value of these created works, a value which Google is trying mightily to deny."

The whole article is a very informative read. I recommend it.

In short, the article helps cut through all of Google's sanctimonious and self-serving justification and obfuscation for stealing others blind.