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In a nutshell, some years back, Google started an ambitious plan to scan every single book ever published and making them findable online via key search words. They invited Stephens Press to participate and we agreed, providing copies of our books for scanning. The results of a search offers a small section of a book that includes the search term a few paragraphs or a page at the most. The search results also offered links to where to buy the book, starting with the publisher. We thought it was a good way to further our reach and help people find our books. We don't really have any mechanism in place to track a search all the way to a sale, but we're eternal optimists and assume some books have, in fact, been purchased as the result of a Google search.

The waters got murkier when Google acquired the rights to digitize the holdings of several major libraries, including many out-of-print books. Now it was the libraries giving Google permission to scan these books but the libraries don't own the copyrights, just physical copies. Some are out of copyright but others arent. It may well require the tracking down heirs and long-defunct publishers in order to acquire permission to scan. Google argues that it is for the greater societal good that these books be made available to the world via their vast, well, vastness.

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So you can see the sticky questions that have popped up. Certain entities, including the Authors Guild, took Google to task, and to court. Google agreed to a settlement, but the so-called settlement hasn't been settled and seems to morph into new complications daily. The Department of Justice ruled on September 18 that the settlement is flawed and all sides need to return to the table.

The issues are complicated and strike at the heart of current copyright law. We can't very well say no one can help themselves to someone elses writing without permission except for Google. And what will Google do in the future? Once it owns essentially all the books of the land, will it start selling them? On the other hand, should researchers and ordinary folks have access, at least in some limited form, to everything ever written? Weighty questions. Stay tuned.

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Posted in Business Post Date 03/19/2018


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