A little while ago, I wrote a post about my mixed feelings regarding Google and its controversial book-scanning process. The long and the short of it is, Google has for some time now been scanning books and making them searchable online. The company got sued for this alleged violation of copyright by a bunch of authors and assorted book people down in the U.S., but the two sides recently came to a settlement. The deal is still awaiting approval by a judge and there are many questions still surrounding the issue.
I was fortunate to get to sit down with Alexander Macgillivray, one of Google’s top intellectual property lawyers, last week for a discussion on this whole books thing. I’ve posted the full interview on YouTube, chopped into four parts, the first of which is below (links to the other three also follow the embedded video).
In a nutshell, the deal is fairly complex because it involves three separate issues: libraries, in-print books and out-of-print books. Under the terms of the settlement, Google will be making snippets of books available online and users will be able to purchase full access to a copy that is viewable only online. I can see this being particularly good in at least two circumstances: it’ll be an awesome tool for people doing research and who need to access hard-to-get, rare or out-of-print books. Looking at my bookshelf, I’ve shelled out for at least 50 books in the course of researching Bombs, Boobs and Burgers, and there were several books that I simply did without because they would have cost too much or taken too long to get. Having instant online access to any book I want, even if I have to pay for it, will be an amazing resource. Consequently, Google’s plan is also good for authors who have books that are out of print. By making them purchasable online, they get a new life and allow authors to continue making money from them.
One of my main concerns was that once the book is digitized and distributed, people would be able to make copies of it and distribute it the same way they do with music, movies and TV shows. Not so, Macgillivray says, because there will be no actual file to download – the books will be hosted online only. I’m sure some users somewhere will figure out how to make copies (i.e. with screen grabs), but at least Google won’t be selling easy-to-distribute PDF files, or anything like that.
Check out the interview:
Interestingly, Google has already scanned about 10 million books. Estimates as to how many books there are in existence vary, but the number is pegged at between 30 million and 100 million. Either way, the company is actually quite far along in its scanning project. It won’t be long before every book ever printed is available online from Google. Like I said before, that’s both really cool and somewhat scary.