Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Linky goodness

Just wanted to cross-post a link to The Library Ass, where I've commented on Australia's deliberation of changes to its copyright law and what it all might mean for Google.


Tish G. said...

I hate to be one of those Google naysayers, but the thing is that Google's evolved from a search engine to an ad network--they make their money not from search, but from cache'ing the content of others and attaching ads. Unlike libraries, Google plans to make money off all that cached content and not pay anything on it. and therein lies the Google problem...

Tom said...


While I agree that Google's ad business complicates the picture significantly, to the search giant's credit they have not succumbed to the trap of turning their operation into a payola scheme to would-be advertisers. Insofar as the Google algorithms are "blind" (and as long as they keep the stuff that isn't blind explicitly marked as such), they keep the ad game honest -- or as honest as such a business could ever be.

An important distinction needs to be made, though, between Google and say a zombie blog as far as the ethics of making money off of someone else's work is concerned. The Google transaction is two-way, as they are adding value to the content they cache and index by making it more accessible to the world at-large -- a service which they offer gratis, mind you, and one which has in no small part made the Internet what it is today for better or worse.

Determining whether this is actually legal or not vis a vis copyright law is a legitimate question, one that has been miraculously side-stepped up until this point by that "gentleman's agreement" I alluded to between Google and the content producers in my post. I think Google is going to find a way to convince most parties concerned that what they're doing is a kind of Fair Use, as they're not profiting directly off of others' content per se but the means by which others' content can be accessed. Yes, it's a weasel of an argument, but I think it'll probably work.

A thing about libraries, though -- while they have a different business model than Google or other for-profit companies, they are in this whole thing for a piece of the action as well. Some of the most lucrative electronic resource properties out there right now for libraries are the fruit of university-corporate partnerships. All of the schools involved in the Google Book Search digitization initiative are not only benefiting from Google's capital and technology to draw upon but they're also getting their own digital copies of the books Google scans to do with as they will. A lot of these will likely get repackaged into resources akin to EEBO (Early English Books Online, a hugely successful and hugely expensive product from the folks at Chadwyk-Healey) and sold for a profit.

So unfortunately the digital content gold rush is getting all of our hands dirty, whether we're corporations or card-carrying members of the ALA. However, I think my post ended up coming off sounding a little too boosterish for Google. Although I do wish them well, they've really opened the Pandora's Box on all of the ethical questions involving content, copyright, and of course money, one that I hope we'll be able to negotiate over the coming decade without losing our souls entirely.