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Writers Sue Google over Book Search


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

The Authors Guild, a group representing 8,000 writers, has filed a lawsuit against the world's most-used Internet search engine. That, of course, is Google. The suit claims the Google Print program, which scans and digitizes books and libraries, violates copyright laws. It's the first legal action against the program. And here with more is DAY TO DAY's technology contributor, Xeni Jardin.

Welcome, Xeni.

XENI JARDIN reporting:

Thank you.

ADAMS: Remind us about the Google Print program.

JARDIN: So Google wants to do for books what regular old Google does for Web pages, make them searchable and findable. The company launched its Print Library Project back in December of 2004, and they're working to scan all or parts each book in the collection of the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, the New York Public Library and Oxford, and then let people search for them on Google. And they plan to make money by selling advertising on book search pages just like they do when you search for Internet images or Web sites.

ADAMS: And why are these writers--they're always apprehensive about something--why are they so concerned they would file suit?

JARDIN: Well, Authors Guild President Nick Taylor said that the program--you know, they're copying protected works for commercial use, and that's a violation of copyright law, and so that authors, not Google, should be the ones to decide when and how their works are copyrighted. But, you know, Google's saying this is protected fair use. They're not copying and distributing entire books; they're just indexing them into kind of a digital card catalog. Authors can ask for their works to be excluded, too. In August, Google stopped scanning copyrighted books until November 1st so that publishers could have time to compile lists of books that they didn't want to have scanned.

Still, the Authors Guild is saying, whatever Google is doing, it's a commercial entity, and it should have to ask authors and publishers first instead of putting the burden of opting out on them.

ADAMS: Is it possible to make a comparison here between the fight between the record companies' music and file-sharing services that let you download songs?

JARDIN: Well, when the recording industry sued Napster, for example, Napster was distributing entire copies of copyrighted songs that you could enjoy just like the legal original, and Google says it's not doing that. Susan Wojcicki, the Google vice president in charge of their Print Project, said, `Google respects copyright and doesn't show even a single page to users who find copyrighted books through the program, unless the copyright holder gives us permission to show more.' She went on to say at most they only show a brief snippet of text where the search term appears, along with basic bibliographic information and links to online booksellers and libraries.

So if publishers say they want Google to make the whole book available through a print-on-demand program, they can do that. But otherwise, all you get is a preview of what's inside so you can buy or borrow a copy somewhere else.

ADAMS: What do the librarians say about this and people who run the libraries?

JARDIN: Well, the argument of the libraries who've opened up their stacks to Google is `We can't afford to install our own digital scanning system, so--we'd love to. If Google can do this for free, great.'

ADAMS: And the writers, the authors who have filed the lawsuit, what specifically are they asking for? What kind of action?

JARDIN: Yeah. They're seeking damages and injunctions against further infringement. And you know, they may prefer that Google and other search companies pay them for the right to build a search service for their books. I mean, basically what the authors are saying is, if Google has its way here, authors will lose control over who can copy their work, and they'll lose sales. But Google says allowing people to discover books can only expand the market for those books. And if the idea behind this lawsuit were extended to the Internet, hey, there wouldn't be any search engines. I mean, what's the difference between Web pages and books, right? What if Web page owners could sue Google for indexing their pages?

ADAMS: There you go. Xeni Jardin is DAY TO DAY's technology and culture correspondent.

Thanks, Xeni.

JARDIN: Thank you, Noah.

ADAMS: And we'll hear more from Xeni in a few minutes, reporting on the latest in crowd control technology. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Xeni Jardin
Xeni Jardin can be heard on NPR’s Day to Day, offering technology insights for listeners nationwide. Jardin is also a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, as well as a tech culture journalist and co-editor of the collaborative weblog BoingBoing.net, the award-winning "Directory of Wonderful Things."