All Things Googled

Tony Sanfilippo, of Penn State’s university press, talked with The Ethicist on All Things Considered about Google’s library program. The Ethicist thinks the opt-out idea is not nice at all, and likens it to a burglar requiring you to list the things you don’t want stolen – only a good analogy if you assume what Google is doing is stealing – but he does point out there are other ways of looking at it. (I’ll steal your television, but I’ll only watch snippits?)

Sanfilippo does a good job of naming his real problem with the program: Google and the libraries they work with will have digital copies of books that the presses themselves don’t have in digital format (since they were produced in a pre-digital era) and he fears one or the other could undermine the market for digital sales, and without sales UPs can’t publish new research. Personally, I don’t agree on the library side of the issue: I find it impossible to imagine the Unversity of Michigan would illegally distribute their digital copies and one library having one digital copy seems unlikely to undermine sales in a significant way. What Google might someday do … well, that’s harder to predict.

Including what they call the program: it’s suddenly been renamed Google Book Search.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

3 thoughts on “All Things Googled”

  1. I’ve seen Tony Sanfilippo’s comments elsewhere (commenting on a blog post, I think). He comes awfully close to asserting that his primary customer base is prone to copyright infringement.

    As for the Ethicist, without hearing the program, it strikes me that part of ethics is understanding the situation clearly. A better analogy might be:

    “I’ll make a photocopy of that poster you printed up to sell, borrowing it from someone you sold it to. I’ll index that poster online, telling people where they can buy or see a copy–but I won’t show a significant portion of the poster to anyone.”

    I care about ethics as much as anyone, and darned if I can find an ethical problem with that. (Whether making that hidden copy constitutes fair use is quite a different question, but it’s a legal question, not an ethical one.)

  2. Yes, I agree with you – and there’s a good argument to be made that the most ethical stance libraries can take right now is to exercise fair use and interpret it as broadly as is reasonable because if we don’t, we may see it dwindle to nothing. Certainly, Lawrence Lessig has argued that one of the worst outcomes would be for Google to privately settle with the publishers and authors who are suing because we’ll not only lose a chance to make good case law, we’ll lose yet more transparency.

    He has a great analysis of the “fair use” issue on his blog, including an argument against Tony’s “potential use” claim. (There are also dozens of comments that argue Lessig’s case heatedly.)

    All this said, I’m deeply committed to university presses and their mission. I wouldn’t be happy about this development if I truly thought it would harm their revenue stream. All of us in higher education have a vested interest in their ability as not-for-profit entities to make new knowledge available.

  3. PS: The Times has an interesting profile of Sidney Verba, library director at Harvard. It includes this snippet: “Another concern for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits is the second digital copy that Google gives to the libraries as part of each agreement. But Mr. Verba maintains that those second copies will be used only for archiving and preservation, in keeping with a research library’s charter.” That was my assumption; it’s good to see it in print.

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