Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Academic publishers question Google copyright infringement

Exactly two months after news and photo “wire service” Agence France-Presse (AFP) brought suit against Google for copyright infringement through the unauthorized display on Google’s Web site of bootleg images and news summaries stolen from paying AFP subscribers’ Web sites, academic publishers of books and journals have joined in labelling another Google service as “systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale,” as I’ve been saying of both Google and for more than a year and a half.

Business Week online has released the complete text of a letter [also available directly from the AAUP web site] sent to Google 20 May 2005 by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), asking, in specific detail, exactly the right questions about the copyright infringement inherent in Google’s current business model. The full letter is a must read, but here’s the meat of the AAUP complaint:

[N]ews of Google Print for Libraries came as a complete surprise. It had not been mentioned by Google representatives during any of the discussions they were having with our members, and Google’s subsequent explanations of Google Print for Libraries have only increased that confusion and transformed it into mounting alarm and concern at a plan that appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale…. [I]t also appears to be built on a fundamental violation of the copyright act, and this large-scale infringement has the potential for serious financial damage to the members of AAUP.

Google’s response to publishers’ objections to Google Print for Libraries that they may “opt out” of the program seems both legally irrelevant and factually disingenuous. Among other reasons, it is irrelevant because all a publisher can do under this option is assert its control over the right of display by Google after the infringing copies have been made. It ignores the fundamental exclusive right of copyright owners to make copies in the first place, and it ignores the exclusive right of distribution, since a copy or copies will have already been given to the participating libraries.

And disingenuous because Google’s practice so far has been to honor the “opt out” provision only on a very narrow and limited basis, if at all. At least two publishers have asked that the works to which they hold copyright not be included in Google Print for Libraries, and to date, Google has not complied. [emphasis added]

It’s particularly interesting to me that publishers are motivated, in part, by their growing recognition that they may share in liability for Google’s infringement of authors’ copyrights. “There’s a huge exposure” to copyright liability, Business Week quotes Stanford law professor and Internet legal guru Larry Lessig as saying, in its article analyzing the AAUP letter and individual publishers’ complaints to Google.

[Addendum, 26 May 2005: Commentary, links, and an interview with the AAUP executive director from the Chronicle of Higher Education and the SearchEngineWatch blog: “When I first learned about Google’s plan to digitize the full text holdings of several large libraries one of the first things that came to mind was the many copyright issues that would come from the publishing community.” Quote from counsel for the [U.K.] Publishers Association], which has raised similar concerns with Google: “It’s like robbing somebody’s shop and then saying, Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll put the chocolate bar back if you say that’s yours…. That’s not how property law works, especially intellectual property.” Other commentary here and here from law blogs and here from Slashdot.]

[Further addendum, 27 May 2005: The Unofficial Google Weblog has a series of reports here and here on how much of a book can be viewed, downloaded, and copied with “Google Print”, and also notes the widening recognition that the most unambiguously infringing of Google’s activities is its distribution of “cached” copies of Web pages: “[T]hose cached copies really are copies. In this case there is no denying the infringement.” Distribution of cached copies may seem benign (i.e. liable only to statutory damages), but as I’ve noted previously, it’s actually devastating to the potential for online resale or time-limited licensing of copyrighted works.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 25 May 2005, 11:24 (11:24 AM)
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