Google’s Lawyer

So, the Professor took me to hear Google’s lawyer ostensibly talk about why we should all be okay with Google Books, but instead it really was more like “Watch me lick my balls and then cheer for me that I was able to lick my balls.”  Which I guess is probably what most of law school is like, but damn.

The publishers’ perspective on Google Books is as follows.  Yes, it is a good and cool idea to have all books (or as close to “all” as one can come) be searchable on the internet.  But those libraries did not have a right to grant Google permission to make those electronic copies and everyone knows it.  Google should have come first to the publishers.  End of story.

And then to go over time so that no one could ask questions.  Nice.  Real nice.

44 thoughts on “Google’s Lawyer

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  3. instead it really was more like “Watch me lick my balls and then cheer for me that I was able to lick my balls.”

    I would totally cheer for someone (human) who could lick their own balls.

  4. I should give credit–the Professor came up with the ball licking analogy. But see, I called the library and asked them if I could have it, and they said I could, so it’s cool.

    The Professor and I just stared at each other in shock for the last fifteen minutes of the talk. I think we were supposed to be impressed that Alice Randall was there, but I got the feeling that we were supposed to be impressed by everything the guy did without asking any critical questions.

  5. Or, you know, Google might at least have gone to the writers whose livelihood they are destroying and offered them a little something. Because, let me tell you, once you have forced all content to be provided free, you will be left with exactlly what you pay for.

  6. That sounds about like Google in a nutshell. “Dude, our motto is Don’t Be Evil! Now stop asking us to show you what we’re doing, because it can’t possibly be evil.”

  7. That sounds about like Google in a nutshell. “Dude, our motto is Don’t Be Evil! Now stop asking us to show you what we’re doing, because it can’t possibly be evil.”

    ::dies lauging::

    Google might at least have gone to the writers whose livelihood they are destroying and offered them a little something.

    Whyever for? Don’t you know that writers’ workproduct is essentially without value? Unless they’re writing popular music or computer code, that is.

  8. Y’all I forgot to tell you the best part! He basically argued that Google didn’t ask permission to do this because asking permission–trying to figure out who held copyright on what or even if something was still in copyright–was too hard.

    Too hard. For Google.

    That makes me laugh.

  9. It’s without value in those circumstances as well, unless it will sell at least a couple of million copies. And even then you will hear loud whining from the buyers that they shouldn’t have to pay for it.

  10. He basically argued that Google didn’t ask permission to do this because asking permission–trying to figure out who held copyright on what or even if something was still in copyright–was too hard.

    What’s that drug they give you in the ER when your heart stops? I need some of that, please.

    Hmmmm. Trying to figure out who actually made this food is too hard. I think I won’t pay my restaurant bill.

    Trying to figure out who made these clothes is too hard. I think I will just stuff them down the front of my pants.

  11. Tell me, is there an RIAA type of organization to fight for authors of the written word?

    There’s not enough money in writing as a business for us to afford the lawyers.

    And that’s essentially what the RIAA is–a metric ton of lawyers.

    (Lawyers need a good collective noun.)

  12. “trying to figure out who held copyright on what or even if something was still in copyright–was too hard.”

    If only they had some sort of search tool.

  13. Isn’t the “organization” supposed to be the federal government, through which one registers copyright? I know this is a bankrupt idea in fact, but in theory isn’t that why one bothers to establish copyright at all?

  14. Isn’t the “organization” supposed to be the federal government, through which one registers copyright?

    Yes. But that got shot in the foot.

    In most corporations’ haste to extend their copyright protections beyond the natural life of such things, the law became (SURPRISE!) far to obfuscatory to be any functional good.

    Gone is the old “Life of the author plus 75 years” thumbnail rule which made my job really easy for a long time. Now, thanks to that hideous and awful Copyright Term Extension Act it takes a hella lot of work to figure out if something is still under copyright.

    I’ve spent whole 8 hour days on the phone with the USCO and attorneys’ offices trying to figure out if something is still under (c) protection. It’s a mess.

  15. Yeah, and we can see the Mouseprints all over that–Disney trying to keep Mickey from entering the public domain.

    And, on the one hand, I don’t blame them. On the other hand, I am already one click away from seeing Belle and the Little Mermaid doing things to each other that only experienced lesbian gymnasts in outer space could do otherwise, and I could pay someone–not Disney–to see more of it.

    So, I’m not sure what Disney thinks they’re protecting by basically killing off the public domain.

  16. that’s the rule of thumb i usually go by, too — if it predates Mickey Mouse, it’s most likely public domain, otherwise it never will be. at least not if it was first published in the USA.

    this hits movies worst; entire libraries of documentary film footage and even fine arts pictures are being lost to decay, because nobody can (economically, anyway) track down copyright holders to get permission to digitize and/or republish the material.

    this’s no small part of why the History Channel tends to run mostly WW2 newsreels all the time, too — any much later than that and stars alone know who they’d need to pay royalties to, so they don’t bother trying.

    Google is likely just trying the brute-force method of unraveling this knot. if they step on your toes, and you care, they’ll just expect you to sue them for royalties; if nobody sues them, they can figure that the work is at least de facto public domain, as the rights-holders have likely forgotten they hold those rights at all.

  17. Yeah, and we can see the Mouseprints all over that–Disney trying to keep Mickey from entering the public domain.

    I spent 3 years doing licensing with Disney. And people wonder why I have stress-related illnesses.

    So, I’m not sure what Disney thinks they’re protecting by basically killing off the public domain.

    What’s even more ironic is that both of those characters you mentioned (Belle & TLM) were poached directly from the public domain. Mickey schmickey. Disney has built its house on the back of public domain works and now bristles at sharing the wealth. As much of a WDW nut as I am, their attitude toward copyright really steams me.

    Google is likely just trying the brute-force method of unraveling this knot. if they step on your toes, and you care, they’ll just expect you to sue them for royalties; if nobody sues them, they can figure that the work is at least de facto public domain, as the rights-holders have likely forgotten they hold those rights at all.

    That’s what I’ve assumed. But it doesn’t make it right. From where i sit that looks like the opposite of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.) It looks like corporations trying to use their financial pull to rewrite the law.

  18. Do you think that they really don’t know that most of the rights-holders can’t afford to sue?

    Nope. I think they’re counting on it.

    I’d embrace the attorney (or premeditation of attorneys) who files a class action suit on behalf of the injured authors.

  19. if they really were interested in not being evil, they’d not insist on you filing a formal lawsuit; they’d be satisfied with a letter showing good evidence that you were the proper owner of the copyright and asking for your royalties, down the lines of what a DMCA take-down notice should look like. whether or not Google actually is interested in not being evil, i suppose we shall soon learn.

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  21. Why doesn’t someone with Steven King or John Grisham money sue them? Metallica does it all the time.

    Because writers live and die by publicity. And as much as it sucks to be ripped off by search engine piracy, it sucks worse to be blocked from search engines.

    And without an RIAA-type body (who seems to be the engine behind Metallica’s various suits), there’s no assurances that any group of writers would be able to retain market accessibility in the wake of a search-engine lawsuit.

    This is some of what the whole Writer’s Guild strike is about out in Hollywood–albeit tangentially. How do writers get acknowledged monetarily for their work on the web?

    Print writers have been increasingly screwed these last 9 years. Now that the TV- and Film writers have gotten a taste of work product devaluation we’re starting to see some fighting back. I personally think it’s too late to help print writers, though.

  22. I attended a lecture by Lawrence Lessig a couple of years ago on all of the copyright extensions and such, and he concluded a point about Disney’s role with “…so nobody can do to Disney what Disney did to the Brothers Grimm.” Thought both B and Kat would appreciate that.

  23. Also, the role of the libraries chaps my butt, because those librarians in big academic libraries know very well about copyright, and somebody should have asked the right questions. They knew the questions were out there, for certain.

  24. now I dislike google for a lot of reasons..

    but how does google book search destroy the livelihood of writers? Doesn’t it limit what you can read to a page or two, unless the author consents to the whole beek being available or it’s in the public domain?

    libraries make the whole book available to the public for free.. that seems like it destroys the livelihood of writers a lot more

  25. Ah, see, Ripley, that’s exactly what Google and their lawyers would like the issue to be. You have very clearly summed up their side.

    But copyright is literally the right to make copies and that’s what this fight is about. Who has the right to make copies of books?

    See, a library can buy a copy of a book and lend it to people, but the publisher (acting on the terms of the contract with the author) made that copy.

    What’s happened with the Google thing, and the reason that publishers are so pissed off is that Google bought no copy of the book (I think you’d still be able to argue that Google had no right to make an electronic copy of a book it purchased, especially if the publisher has an electronic copy of that book available, but I can also see how a court might accept Google’s argument that it can make an electronic copy, just as I could make a copy of a whole book for my own purposes) and, instead of asking publishers if they could make an electronic copy of a book they bought (because, of course, they didn’t buy the books), they went to these libraries and colluded with the libraries to make electronic copies of the books–one that they’ll use on Google books and one that goes to the library.

    Now both Google and the libraries know that they have no right to do this. Google can’t make copies of books it doesn’t own. And libraries can’t grant Google the right to make copies of those books.

    The reason publishers (and authors) are upset is not what Google ends up doing with the content. I think we’re all in agreement that Google books is pretty damn cool.

    It’s that we’re very concerned about what happens if the courts decide to buy the argument that someone other than the copyright holder has a legal right to give anyone permission to make copies of that material.

    That’s the threat to all our livelihoods–if copyright has no real meaning.

  26. Ah! That’s a part I’d been missing. I knew that it had bad effects, and my own personal thoughts were that things tend to get very murky when passed through the black box (minimalist white box?) of Google anything, which is where my reservations kicked in… but I wasn’t too clear on the whys and hows people who weren’t mean were annoyed about it.

  27. libraries make the whole book available to the public for free.. that seems like it destroys the livelihood of writers a lot more

    Things are not always what they seem.

    Caveat: IANAL(ibrarian). But I did volunteer for many years in many different libararies. A librarian here in town explained the McNaughton system to me.

    Essentially, the most popular titles are rented from McNaughton books, and McNaughton pays royalties to the author. For example, remember back a couple of years ago how EVERYBODY wanted to read The DaVinci Code. Our local Nashville Public Library had something like 125 copies in circulation for about 8 months. They didn’t buy all of those. They rented most of them, catalogued them temporarily and then returned the bulk of them to McNaughten.

    McNaughten–again, from what I was told (but Rachel will probably know better)–pays royalties on books just the same way a radio station pays royalties on songs it plays.

    Of course the whole McNaughten scheme applies only to bestsellers and frontlist titles supplied by McNaughten.

    I’ve been given to understand from a University librarian friend of mine that many books are acquired by libraries under licensing arrangements. You, the reader, pays indirectly–through taxes–for the books. But each time a book is checked out, the publisher is paid a small sum.

    From what I gather based on conversations, readings and my years of volunteering in libraries there’s a lot more money changing hands behind the scenes then most laypeople realise.

    And any discussion of this stuff also presumes that royalty payments on book contracts are straightforward. They are anything but.

    Also, if anyone’s curious, may I recommend one of my favourite sport-reading blogs; the LibraryLaw Blog.

    It’s blog dot librarylaw dot com. (Akismet will eat this if I add a link)

  28. Seems like with every technological advance, there is the ultimate effect of reducing an artist’s control over his or her product. I remember the hoopla over cassettes, then video tape. I don’t for a minute understand the Google book thing, but the arguments sound familiar. But I don’t think you can stop this for ANY kind of mass distributed electronic product. India, Russia, China and other countries don’t give a rats ass about our copyright laws, and I’m not even sure they are enforceable beyond our borders. My one foray into the movie business left me with a bad taste in my mouth because I saw a larger business entity essentially steal a smaller one’s product, because they had the distribution pipeline. Anyway, all of this may just mean no one else is ever going to get McCartney rich ever again…

  29. Kat, some public libraries do participate in some kind of licensing agreement the way you’re describing for print materials. Access to electronic materials is pretty much always bound by licensing agreement. We purchase access to electronic books and journals, generally priced based on the number of potential users, which must be paid for and renewed every year. There is usually no guaranteed access if we cancel a subscription – if we canceled an electronic journal subscription, all of our access would usually go away, and we wouldn’t retain access to the years we had paid for. Again, in most but not all cases. In most cases, though, we’re buying print materials outright, because we’re only buying one or two copies of a given title. The licensing of print books in public libraries is usually done to gain extra copies of popular materials, because libraries know that after the initial flurry dies down, they really don’t need 125 copies of the Da Vinci Code in the collection – they need 2 or 3, but license extras during that period where demand is high in order to serve more patrons during that initial period.

    In terms of copyright, libraries are specifically permitted to purchase and allow access to materials – the book publishers are not disputing that, and it’s codified in the law. Publishers know that some people just are book buyers, and some people will be exposed to an author through the library shelves, books have a longer life than that initial fury, and so on. Having one or two copies available to a community over a long time probably isn’t going to decrease revenues significantly, and it’s both a kind of longstanding agreement and a part of the federal law. Publishers make money selling works to libraries. Presumably, the author gets some money based on sales, but that is really between the writer and the publisher, not the writer and the library.

    What libraries generally don’t have a right to do is participate in wholesale copying of works (and B, I don’t believe you technically have the right to copy a whole book from the library-there are wonky guidances on this about portions of works and not making personal archives and so on). They only have this right, really, for preservation purposes and when purchasing a new copy would be prohibitive because it has a very limited availability. As with most copyright, there is a lot of room for argument, and I’m sure the librarians involved in the Google project would argue. In general, though, Google made a huge political faux pas by not going through the publishers, leaving aside the legal concerns.

  30. You know who comes out looking pretty good in all of this? Japan. They do pay authors, musicians, publishers, and record labels a rental/licensing fee for books and CDs checked out of libraries, they have an entity charged with collecting and distributing the fee, and they cooperate with foreign (non-Japnese) entities collecting fees on behalf of foreign royaltors. The trick is that the foreign royaltors have to know about this and apply to get the money, but at least the application process is easy and free.

  31. I don’t want google doing this, but not because I see a fundamental right being destroyed. The purpose of copyright is the greater social good (not artists’ exclusive control over the right to make copies). Government has seen fit to alter the terms of copyright for various reasons over time, the scope and nature of the right to make copies being one of the things that has been altered.

    I think Google should not be the ones to do this book search thing, because I don’t trust them like I tend to trust librarians and libraries, who mostly have a pretty strong sense of a public mission. I don’t want a private company to be the arbiter of access to all printed knowledge. And despite the current government’s tendency to make me feel like a libertarian, generally I think a government should be doing what google is doing. Scary to imagine the current government doing it, but it couldn’t be more of a “public” issue, and maybe if the public libraries were in charge it would be managed better than, say, FEMA..

    It’s clearly in both the public interest and authors’ interest to have books be text-searchable.

  32. @ripley Don’t worry, we librarians are sticking around for folks like you. As long as you support us when the powers that be want to kill our budgets. :)

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