Saturday, October 17, 2015

Enhanced Card Catalog or Massive Copyright Violation?

In 2004, Google began what it calls "an enhanced card catalog of the world's books." The Google Books Library Project is an attempt to provide an easy way for people to find books that are relevant to the research or current reading interests. Google states that it's ultimate goal is to:
". . . work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers." 
The Author's Guild says this is a violation of copyright. After this week's Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Google, the Guild plans to take Google to the Supreme Court.

On the one hand it might seem like Google is off base and the idea of creating a "card catalog of all books" is an unwanted idea that could cost writers and publishers money and market share in the world of ideas. On the other hand it might seem like writers and publishers are limiting the opportunity to get their ideas seen around the world.

Is it all about money? This question of copyright and the publication of content is more about how we use our technology to publish and access information. Access to digital data is growing so fast it's impossible for anyone to consume it all. And, digital libraries are popping up all over the place.

One example is the Digtial Public Library of America:

As Luis Herrera, City Librarian for the San Francisco Public Library says "think of it as a virtual library of Americana that's free and accessible to all."

The DPLA is just the latest effort in this area. The Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and California Digital Library (CDL) all provide free and open access to digital materials.

The University of California began the CDL in 1997 and has "assembled one of the world's largest digital research libraries and changed the ways that faculty, students, and researchers discover and access information." In fact, the California Digital Library mass digitization program is directly involved with the Google Books Library Project and with the Internet Archive.

If libraries are doing this, why then does the Writer's Guild want to stop Google? The Guild says the ruling will ultimately reduce the amount of produced content as writers lose interest in working in a field where they won't be able to make a living.

The Internet Archive believes that:
"Libraries exist to preserve society's cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it's essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world."
As we've seen with the music industry, the film industry, news media, and almost any area of content, technology has allowed us to go beyond the traditional ways of communicating our ideas. These communication industries must continue to forge ahead with both the creation of new content and ways to compensate their writers, directors, producers, actors, and anyone else involved in the creative process.

If we do that then more information will be available to more people on earth. That would be a good thing.

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