Kicking Shows More Respect Than Ignoring?

    March 12, 2007

There’s a bit of debate lately due to a Microsoft lawyer bashing Google’s book scanning program and their positions on copyright. It’s one of those stories everybody has to comment on, despite merely being a case of one company sniping at another, so naturally I stayed the hell away from it. Still, Lawrence Lessig made an argument that so defines the opposite of compelling that I had to say something:

Well, Microsoft “respects” these copyright holders by not providing any access to their works. Google “respects” these copyright holders by providing “snippet access” — just enough to see a sentence or two around the words you’re searching for, and then links to actually get the book (either at a library, or from a book seller).

This may just be my own vanity, but I suspect that more copyright holders of books no longer in print would like Google’s kind of respect over Microsoft’s. But in any case, it is not true to say that Google could have provided “its Book Search service” in the way that “we at Microsoft are doing it.” If asking first is always required, then because of the insanely inefficient system of property that we call copyright — inefficient again because the government has designed it so that there’s no simple way to know who owns what, the very essence of a property system — 75% of books could not be within a digital view of our past.

Sorry, Mr. Lessig, but it is your own vanity. While there are many authors who care more about getting their books out there than making money, the vast majority is trying to earn a living. Those authors whose books are out of print, but still in copyright, would love an opportunity to make some money off their older books, but Google’s plan involves copying them without permission. When you make a copy of a copyrighted work, you are in essence stealing it, and even when I download music and movies, I never kid myself that what I am doing is legal.

It is one thing for a kid on Limewire to download the latest “Jesus Take The Wheel” or whatever, but its a far larger issue if a 140 billion dollar corporation scans and copies every book on the face of the earth! I think Google should scan in all these books, but only after finding a way to make it all legal. Thus far, Google has presented only vague, uneven, unproven, unprecedented reasoning for its program, been beset with threats and lawsuits, and I’ve got a bad feeling all their efforts will eventually be undone by a court decision.

The main thing, though, is the fallacy at the heart of the argument: Lessig argues that getting authors works back into the public eye, without payment or permission, shows more respect than doing absolutely nothing. Seriously? Even if all the authors want their books in Google, I’ve always felt that to respect me, you have to show respect, and that means asking me if what you are doing is okay. Don’t tell these authors what’s best for them, that shows no respect at all.

Mr. Lessig, even if you want Google to scan and index your book, even if you want the knowledge in your book spread throughout the earth, wouldn’t you want Google, a company that will make money off your book you will never see, to at least ask permission first? Unless you put up a Creative Commons license, allowing them to do this without express permission, shouldn’t they give you the damn courtesy of asking you first? Don’t they owe you some respect?

(via TechDirt)