As a longtime dues-paying member of the Authors Guild, I'm party to a
lawsuit against Google over its new book-search service called Google
As an author of two books, though, I'm not sure I want to be suing
Google. Every writer wants his or her work to be read. But to be
read, a work needs to be found. Digital search is fast becoming the de
facto way to be found.
The problem is that finding something digitally too easily equates to
Google Print, which you can try out now in test form at
print.google.com, aims to do for books what Google has done for the
Web. You search on a topic or keyword and you're presented with a list
of citations from books whose entire text Google has indexed. So far
Google has agreements with a handful of libraries to digitize their
Here's where things get sticky. The Authors Guild thinks that Google,
by indexing books and presenting squibs in searches, violates
copyright law. Authors receive no compensation from readers who may
find all they want or need in a few excerpts without having to buy the
It's even possible that persistent searchers could assemble entire
books by doing repeated searches. So the same demon of piracy plaguing
the entertainment business rears its ugly head in the publishing
So far, Google has shown interest in making money only from
search-linked advertising, not from book content. It argues that
indexing books and displaying excerpts are legal procedures akin to
quotes in reviews and do not require publishers' permission.
That's opened the door for competitors including Yahoo!, Microsoft and
Amazon.com to do "responsible" library-search deals that abide by
Amazon is planning to introduce a feature in which users pay "a few
cents a page" for online access to selected books.
Led by the Association of American Publishers, which also is suing
Google, many publishers argue that even squibs should cost money.
Random House has said it wants 4 cents per excerpt. But just as the
"true price" of a downloaded song, TV show or movie is still being
debated, reasonable cost (if any) for a book excerpt has yet to be
What if pay-for searches discourage readers from even looking? One
further complication: What slice of that 4 cents, if any, will be
passed from the publisher to the author?
One thing the controversy has highlighted is the publishing industry's
desperate need to climb aboard the 21st century.
"Web users are way out in front of the business model," said Chuck
Richard, an analyst at Outsell, which tracks information markets.
Readers are migrating to digital in droves, but revenue is mired on
the print side, Richard said.
It may be that the only thing worse than Google Print would be no
Without some digital equivalent to the concept of a library, a lot of
great writing could be lost to the ages. And no one -- readers,
authors, publishers, Google and its competitors -- would benefit from
Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for
more than two decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company
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