Google, copyright and Gorman

In case you missed this recent Wall Street Journal article on Google print, several librarians are quoted including ALA President Michael Gorman.

Gorman continues to channel librarians of 80-100 years ago who believed not only that people ought to read, but that people ought to read the right things in the right way, and librarians were to show them how. Gorman says, “They are reducing scholarly texts to paragraphs. The point of a scholarly text is they are written to be read sequentially from beginning to end, making an argument and engaging you in dialogue.” Huh? Besides lumping scholarly texts from many disciplines into one category, who knows what the point of a scholarly text is? Maybe the point of a scholarly text is to get the author tenure. Maybe the author’s point is to get the ideas out there and build reputation. Furthermore, if I read the whole thing from beginning to end, how am I in dialogue? It’s more like a monologue. Ok suppose you are supposed to read the whole text from beginning to end. What if giving someone a little taste makes them want to go for the whole meal? And what if I’ve already read the whole work a while ago and forgot most of it and want to go back and search for a particular part that’s relevant to my work now? There’s no end to the different ways people use texts, and librarians shouldn’t be telling them that they must use them or read them in a certain way. At least the article noted Gorman wasn’t speaking on behalf of ALA.

Andrew Herkovic, director of communications at Stanford University Libraries “declined to comment” on whether Stanford provided copyrighted material to Google. Google is not always forthcoming, but at least Google admits they’re scanning copyrighted texts. If Stanford did provide copyrighted material, could they be named in the lawsuit? Would this be against ALA’s code of ethics, which says librarians should respect copyright? I guess there’s always a chance Herkovic/Stanford doesn’t know if they’ve given copyrighted material or not, but shouldn’t they make it their business to know?

5 thoughts on “Google, copyright and Gorman”

  1. I agree that people read differently depending on need and I love the fact that I can hopscotch through a book or flip back and reread a chapter at will. Doug Brent has written a fascinating book about what reading really is about. I do think full-text searching won’t be the only and best way to find books – but it sure is handy when you want to check a quote or look up a fugitive footnote. And I don’t think online access will make people less inclined to read books in their entirety, though it could well give them a chance to discover and browse before making choices.

    As for respecting copyright – I think librarians should, but in the Constitutional meaning of the word: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” That means protecting the rights of creators, but also to protect the social good of limiting that monopoly.

    Thanks for the link, Marc – I’d missed that one.

  2. Sorry, I’m a little obsessed about this… but here’s an interesting and thorough piece by the always interesting and thorough Peter Suber that unpicks all the fair use arguments.

    The one real fear that neither he nor, apparently, the complainants address specifically is that publishers (to go by our earlier conversation here) think Google is planning something very different than what they’re launching now: to somehow control digital assets in ways that give them enormous power and steal revenue streams from publishers.

    If this is the moment that fair use is redefined, I would urge Google to lay on the table not what they plan in future – they’re entitled to keep those cards close to their chest – but to make legally binding promises that will satisfy publishers that they won’t be run out of business by a monopolistic Google DRM.

    In exchange for that, I would hope the publishers and Author’s Guild would take the increase in sales as a fair trade and not ask readers to pay for every peek. Because they’ve tried that before: it didn’t fly in the marketplace and it won’t this time, either.

  3. As long as Google Print brings up only the few pages on which a search term appears, I can’t see it as being much of a danger to copyright. I would think that the result would be to sell more rather than fewer books.

    As an academic author, I am in a strange position here. I never receive more than a token remuneration for my work anyway. But the more people read my work, the more widely distributed my ideas become. This is the lifeblood of academic discourse, and pays off in reputation which ultimately trickles down to academic advancement and my paycheque. So the more I give my work away, the better off I am.

    I am aware, however, that I would not be in a good position if I jeopardized the existence of the academic publishers that add value to my work by editing it and by subjecting it to peer review. But that does not seem sufficient to prevent me from posting almost everything I have written to my web page ( — including the book that Barbara so graciously cites above.

    So in short, although I don’t trust organizations like Google not to abuse their potential power in future, I have no problem with what they are doing right now. Even if I were a commercial author I would value the increased exposure to opportunities to buy my work.

  4. It’s true that academics get their rewards differently than commercial writers, but I think most commercial writers would agree with you that making snippets searchable will only help.

    As for fear that everything will be digital (and if Google owns all the digital copies we’re in trouble – I’m not persuaded. If we got technologies as convenient and user-friendly as printed books for sustained reading, okay. But that doesn’t exist yet. And apart from sustained reading, one of the reasons students want something they can literally hold in their hands is … well, rhetorical. If it’s virtual, they’re worried they can’t get it back. As you say in your book:

    “Too many students assume, and too many teachers and textbooks imply, that a good researcher should be able to glean everything she needs from a book, make careful notes, and then put the book back on the shelf and never look at it again.” [Or – in a digital world – close the browser and be done with it.] We must tell students what our own experience tells us: that the questions they are asking of a source will mature and shift as they read, and will develop further when they begin writing and rewriting their papers. Questions they never thought to ask the first time will drive them back into their material and into new material as often and as deeply as their energy and schedules permit. . . . [and] with a different set of eyes that will evoke a new virtual work from them. This is more than the typical ‘narrowing’ of a subject to make it more ‘manageable,’ a step usually treated as a preliminary. It is a recognition that evoking meaning from texts is a recursive, not a linear process”(21).

    I actually used this passage in an argument before Google was a gleam in Sergey and Larry’s eyes that we needed to have a better budget to buy books – some administrators seemed convinced our incredibly efficient interlibrary loan system made buying books for our library unncecessary. (Actually, there were a lot of problems with that concept, but I wanted to include a pedagogical reason for having books present on the shelves.)

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