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Magazines > Information Today > January 2006
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Information Today

Vol. 23 No. 1 — January 2006

To Have and to Hold
Viewpoint: Association of American Publishers

[Editor’s Note: The Association of American Publishers ( has taken a stand on Google Book Search, previously called the Google Print Library Project. Here is its viewpoint.]

The siren song of Google’s oft-quoted corporate mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is seductive in its promise to benefit humanity. But like all Utopian visions, this one has its limitations dictated by countervailing public interests, such as the right to privacy, security considerations, and the ability to own property.

We leave it to others—and there are many—to raise critical questions regarding privacy and security, not to mention the wisdom of allowing one corporation, no matter how noble its rhetoric, to organize and control all of the world’s information.

Our concern here, as publishers and authors, is with Google [Book Search]. Announced a year ago, Google [Book Search] involves an arrangement with three major academic libraries to make complete digital copies of millions of books, many of which are still under copyright, to be stored on Google’s computers, used to promote its search engine and advertising operations, and given to participating libraries. To protect the creative work of their authors from unauthorized exploitation for commercial gain, publishers are asking the federal courts to declare this arrangement a willful infringement of copyright. 

We realize that in some quarters “copyright” has become the ultimate term of disapprobation—an evil plot by faceless corporations to choke off creativity, destroy the Internet, suppress free speech (and probably promote global warming). In fact, copyright is nothing more than a long-accepted legal safeguard that allows writers and their publishers, photographers, visual artists, choreographers, composers, and all manner of other creative spirits to benefit, for a limited time, from their own work.

Writers write and publishers publish in order to be part of the global human conversation. We enthusiastically embrace the Internet for its role in democratizing and expanding that conversation to a degree not previously imaginable, for its promise of a universal dialogue that will transcend physical barriers and defeat tyrannical censorship. As publishers, we recognize the need to organize and rationalize the information that fuels the global dialogue and are involved with a host of partners to make our authors’ works accessible, searchable, and available to the broadest possible audience on the Internet without abandoning copyright protection. Among them, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, and the Internet Archive are creating projects and models that honor the rights of creators.

Google also honored this principle in its original book search effort, the Print Publisher Program. But as Google’s vision of itself grew grander (after all, co-founder Sergey Brin once said, “The perfect search engine would be like the mind of God”), its arrogant assumption has been that its destiny places it above the law.

There is no question that Google has created an amazing search engine, with an even more amazing potential. There is also no question that without exciting, interesting, well-researched, and well-written information, Google would have nothing to search.

With all of its progressive rhetoric, Google tends to obscure the fact that it is a $90 billion profit-making, publicly held corporation with the interests of stockholders and partners to serve. It is not, Mr. Brin notwithstanding, “the mind of God.” Its size and power and creative vision cannot be used as justification to abrogate rights and property that belong to others even if it is “for their own good,” as Google has asserted.

If Google is allowed to rewrite the law, seize copyrighted works without permission or compensation to their owners, and use these works to increase its own wealth and power under the guise of “fair use,” then no creative enterprise that depends on intellectual property protection will be safe from Google’s particular version of “eminent domain.” Authors and publishers may be Google’s first targets, but they certainly won’t be the last.


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