Libraries Break My Heart.

Libraries and librarians, I love you because you’re so radical, believing all information should be freely available to everyone. University presses, German conglomerates, web browsers, professors, students, you love us all equally and fiercely.

Libraries and librarians, I have given you all of my grown-up days. I work to fill your shelves. I can’t forget the squeak of the cart wheel, full of books for shelving. I can’t forget the bump of spines as I read along to make sure everything was still in order. I can’t forget the crack of dried glue and the smell of musty ink, books that haven’t been opened in decades. And now, I work to give you books that I hope you will love.

Of course, I knew all along you had other lovers, and I was fine with that. You draw everyone who loves words to you.

But how could you let Google talk you into this? Giving Google all your books to scan and make available for searching?

Libraries and librarians, what happened? Don’t you love authors? Don’t you love publishers? Don’t you love copyright law?

Copyright–literally, the right to make copies. The only person who has that right is the author. She might assign that right to her publisher, give it to the publisher to hold onto for as long as the book’s in print, but it’s hers. She, or the publisher she’s asked to decide for her, is the only person who can say who can make copies of her book.

You don’t get to decide that Google can make copies of your books that are still under copyright protection. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning Google is, and I believe their intentions are honorable, copyright law isn’t just to protect us against bad guys. It’s to protect us from the likes of you, who mean well, but are wrong.

But, but, but you say, it’ll work to everyone’s benefit. Whole libraries’ collections will be searchable online, but the copyright protected materials will not be free. Readers will only get a snippet, and have to pay to see the whole thing. There will be links, you say, to publishers’ websites, so that readers can purchase the books if they want.

Work to everyone’s benefit or not, it’s not your decision to make. Who’s contacted the copyright holders and asked them if they want to participate? How can you say you love books and knowledge if you have no respect for the people who write those books?

I’m very ashamed of you and Google. Peter Givler at the AAUP has some hard questions for Google, which they have not yet answered, but I wonder how you would respond. When he asks, “How can the libraries claim these copies have been lawfully acquired?” we both know you can’t.

It’s true, I’m a strong advocate of ‘fair use’ and I believe scholars have a moral obligation to interpret the boundaries of ‘fair use’ generously. I’m also a great lover of public domain, and it pisses me off that, for all practical purposes, things have stopped entering the public domain.

And, maybe you also are angry that Disney has successfully stopped the flow of intellectual property into the intellectual commons, and this is your crazy stand, where you liberate all intellectual property and give it to everyone. You haven’t said that, though.

Or maybe you think this is “fair use” because you’ve convinced yourself that it won’t hurt the market. But there’s never been a case in which reproducing a whole book without permission, let alone the contents of a whole library, have been considered ‘fair use.’ In fact, it’s the unlawful reproduction of whole works that copyright law was first designed to stop.

It’s unbelievable to me that a handful of university libraries and Google would decide that they don’t have to consider the rights of the author. Who would have thought that we’d ever see a day when two institutions whose whole reason for existence depends on the written word would declare war on the author?

Home again, Home again

Is there anything better than coming down the hill into town from Joelton at 75 miles an hour with no traffic? Just gliding through those curves like you and the road are old dancing partners?

Only getting home and finding that your brother has spent the afternoon making you a delicious cake.