The “unlocking of knowledge” is something that students, professors and academics in general look to achieve throughout their lives. Now, with the aid of the Google Print Library Project, they might get their chance. Unfortunately, a coalition of 8,000 authors represented by Authors Guild, Inc. stands in their way. Last week, the University decided to support Google’s efforts, publicly endorsing Google’s plans to digitize the University’s libraries. It is good to see the University standing firm by a plan that could pay broad dividends to society.
As announced last December, Google made plans to digitize the entire contents of five libraries – those belonging to Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, the University of Michigan and New York City. The company laid plans to scan and create a searchable database of all the works found on the shelves of these libraries and make them accessible to millions through the web. However, Authors Guild filed a lawsuit intervening with the process and claiming that Google was “engaging in massive copyright infringement” by reproducing sections of books that were still under copyright without asking authors.
What the Authors Guild does not understand is that Google is well within its rights to create a public database based upon the fair use doctrine found within copyright laws. Google is not creating this unique database with intentions to make a profit; it is constructing this database to hold mountains of information for the public good. It is almost unthinkable to believe that the Authors Guild would reject Google’s proposal given it stands to benefit millions by making books that were previously unavailable available with the click of a button.
Furthermore, Google is not allowing public users to fully view books that are still under copyright protection. At most, a few pages – relating to the contents a searcher wishes to view – will be available. Again, under the fair use doctrine, the few pages that Google will provide are small enough to cause the company to violate copyright protections.
In fact, Google Library should have the opposite effect of what publishers and authors fear. Instead of discouraging readers to read an entire work, placing sections of books online will entice readers by offering a preview. Google is not trying to undermine publishers and authors by circumventing the copyright process; it even provides links to local bookstores and libraries for users to purchase or rent full copies of copyrighted texts.
As it is today, obscure and rare books generally sit on dusty shelves in libraries waiting for their information to be accessed by the right person in the right place at the right time. With Google Library, such books will be readily accessible to the masses that lack access to major university research libraries.
What Authors Guild needs to do is accept this multi-million dollar plan as a blessing in disguise. The group needs to swallow its fear of losing money – which is unlikely to be realized – and look at the greater good. The bottom line is that everyone wins when Google creates this database of information – the people who have greater access to information, the publishers and the authors who receive more publicity and the universities that reap the benefits of national prestige.