Wednesday, 6 October 2004

Google joins Amazon in e-book plagiarism?

A year ago this month, I noted reports that Google.com was planning to emulate Amazon.com's copyright-infringing scheme for online distribution of unauthorized bootleg images of the pages of books to which it doesn't own the copyright or electronic rights.

In the intervening year, bootleg e-books assembled from page images obtained from Amazon.com have already started showing up on Kazaa and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). (For more on all of this, see the Writing and Publishing section of this blog.)

Today, Google.com launched a beta version of its e-book (page image) Web site.

It looks like Google's page image distribution system will be virtually identical to that of Amazon.com. Google claims broadly, that, "To further protect your book content, printing and image copying functions are disabled on all Google Print content pages." But the fine print reveals that they will only try to disable "right-click" cut, copy and paste, and printing (presumably through the same sort of buggy, platform-specific javascript that fails to protect page images on Amazon.com). In practice, it is technically impossible for any Web server function to prevent the saving or printing by a Web client of any image that client can display.

The question that remains unanswered is whether in practice Google.com will -- as Amazon.com has done -- allow publishers to "authorize" inclusion of books in this e-book giveaway program without the authors' consent, or when the publisher does not own the unencumbered rights to e-book distribution.

Google.com's scheme isn't necessarily illegal, if they actually obtain permisison from the holders of the rights to electronic distribution. But in practice, it appears likely that Google will rely on publishers' self-reprersentations as to their ownership of electronic rights, rather than -- as they could and should -- requiring anyone not identified in the work itself as the copyright holder, and who wants the work included in Google.com's e-book distribution program, to present evidence of a grant of electronic distribution rights by the copyright holder.

Google.com will also pay publishers a share of the revenue for ads displayed along with book page images. In the absence of an explicit grant of electronic rights in the print book publication contract, those revenues belong to authors (although they are likely to be small compared to the potential e-book revenue that authors will lose through the giveaway of page images). It will be interesting to see how publishers account for these ad revenues, and whether they pay authors the full share (in many cases, 100%) to which they are entitled.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 6 October 2004, 16:44 ( 4:44 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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