Ambitious Google project: a digital age test of copyright law

Tony Sanfilippo is of two minds when it comes to Google Inc.'s ambitious program to scan millions of books and make their text fully searchable on the Internet.

On the one hand, Sanfilippo credits the program for boosting sales of obscure titles at Penn State University Press, where he works. On the other, he's worried that Google's plans to create digital copies of books obtained directly from libraries could hurt his industry's long-term revenues.

With Google's book-scanning program set to resume in earnest this fall, copyright laws that long preceded the Internet look to be headed for a digital-age test.

The outcome could determine how easy it will be for people with Internet access to benefit from knowledge that's now mostly locked up _ in books sitting on dusty library shelves, many of them out of print.

"More and more people are expecting access, and they are making do with what they can get easy access to," said Brewster Kahle, co-founder of the Internet Archive, which runs smaller book-scanning projects, mostly for out-of-copyright works. "Let's make it so that they find great works rather than whatever just happens to be on the Net."

To prevent the wholesale file-sharing that is plaguing the entertainment industry, Google has set some limits in its library project: Users won't be able to easily print materials or read more than small portions of copyright works online.

Google also says it will send readers hungry for more directly to booksellers and libraries.

But many publishers remain wary.

To endorse Google's library initiative is to say "it's OK to break into my house because you're going to clean my kitchen," said Sally Morris, chief executive of the U.K.-based Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. "Just because you do something that's not harmful or (is) beneficial doesn't make it legal."

Morris and other publishers believe Google must get their permission first, as it has under the Print Publisher Program it launched in October 2004, two months before announcing the library initiative.

Under the publishers' program, Google has deals with most major U.S. and U.K. publishers. It scans titles they submit, displays digital images of selected pages triggered by search queries and gives publishers a cut of revenues from accompanying ad displays.

But publishers aren't submitting all their titles under that program, and many of the titles Google wants to scan are out of print and belong to no publisher at all.

Under the Print Library Project, Google is scanning millions of copyright books from libraries at Harvard, Michigan and Stanford along with out-of-copyright materials there and at two other libraries.

Google has unilaterally set this rule: Publishers can tell it which books not to scan at all, similar to how Web site owners can request to be left out of search engine indexes. In August, the company halted the scanning of copyright books until Nov. 1, saying it wanted to give publishers time to compile their lists.

Much of the objections appear to stem from fears of setting a precedent that could do future harm to publishing.

"If Google is seen as being permitted to do this without any response, then probably others will do it," said Allan Adler, a vice president at the Association of American Publishers. "You would have a proliferation of databases of complete copies of these copyrighted works."

Publishers won't rule out a lawsuit against Google.

The technology juggernaut, whose name is synonymous with online search, isn't just shaking up book publishing.

Google has a separate project to archive television programs but has so far received limited permissions. The company also faces lawsuits over facilitating access to news resources and porn images online.

Jonathan Zittrain, an Internet legal scholar affiliated with Oxford and Harvard universities, says the book-scanning dispute comes down balancing commercial and social benefits.

"From the point of view of the publishers, you can't blame them for playing their role, which is to maximize sales," he said. "But if fair use wasn't found, (Google) would never be able to do the mass importation of books required to make a database that is socially useful.", AP reported.

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