Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Google Books

It's an easily derived opinion from my philosophy on copyright and the information age, but here's something I posted on a blog in response to the idea that the Google Books case is not over yet. I'm very excited about the potential of Google Books, but indeed, it's not out of the woods yet. I summarize my opinion on the situation (keeping it here, with some fixed grammar for posterity):

The Author’s Guild could also appeal as well. But it limits the plaintiffs’ options, so it is a pretty significant win for Google at this point.

I don’t view this as David vs Goliath, since there are huge financial interests on both sides.
What I see though, is Google made a service that could literally give access to entirety of human knowledge to anyone with Internet access, and the ability to search through tens of millions of books no different then any other search query. It’s not a pipe dream. They made it already.

And I see a bunch of plaintiffs that just don’t want this. I see them defending business models built in a world where a service like Google Books is a pipe dream, not a reality. I see them defending business models that are based fundamentally on developing and maintaining a scarcity of knowledge, business models that intentionally make knowledge more difficult to access, and where knowledge is less accessible to lower economic classes.

To not allow a service like Google Books is to put a damper on the progression of humanity. All to serve no other purpose but to maintain business models that can no longer, and do no longer benefit the public interest.

Unfortunately, due entirely to these interests, Google Books is not as useful as it could be. In fact, this has entirely everything to do with the sorry state of copyright law and nothing to do with the technology itself.

Google had to spend significant engineering efforts, efforts that could be used to improve the service instead, to serve no other ends except to literally make their service less useful. They do this by randomly introducing defects into the service, such as removing pages from books and other shenanigans so that researchers can’t use the service to get a complete context. These are not features, they are anti-features. They exist for no other purpose but to disallow the service to function in its true potential. By literally introducing defects into the service, they are working to make it defective by design. All because of a legal regime that demands defects in products such as Google Books.

But removing all those legally-imposed defects will be a trivial change (perhaps just setting a configuration variable) and I think one day we’ll see a books service that is not hampered by the current limitations imposed by copyright law. That’s my hope. I want to see a world where the entirety of knowledge and culture is made available to the whole world.

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