July 15, 2024
"I wonder..."

In 2002, Google embarked on an ambitious plan to expand its search capabilities by copying the text of every book in the English language.  They claimed the right to do this under “fair use,” hitching their hopes to the shaky technically that their service was for searching, rather than reading, books.  The Google plan was to put the world on an honor system, something like “Search as ye may, but readeth not!”  Somehow the publishing industry and authors weren’t buying it.

Now Google is paying $125 million to get the job done.  That price might suggest that Google lost, but it actually turns out to be fairly inexpensive for the right to create a library that will be the envy of the world.  Speaking about the settlement, Washington copyright lawyer Jonathan Band said. “[Publishers] need to get with the program and find a way to partner with the Internet companies as opposed to fighting them.”

What this really signals is more shrinkage and consolidation of the hardcopy publishing industry, which closely follows the hardcopy audio (CDs) and video (DVDs) into the digital netherworld where intellectual property is more of a commodity like barley or beef than a unique product.  Mothers, tell your children to be President because becoming authors, video producers or, gulp, musicians in the 21st Century will not be a profitable career choice.  The L.A. Times has more.

Books differ from songs in many ways, one of the most important being that books have universal product codes (UPCs) that can tell publishers exactly how many units have been sold and hence the royalties due the authors.  Song plays can only be estimated and that process, which is run by the song publishers, is nothing but statistical voodoo.  The point being that downloading songs is more difficult to equate to stealing given the pittances paid to the vast majority of songwriters, the more informed of whom know, going back to the days before computers, that downloaders are not the ones who are stealing from them.

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