November 18, 2005

Google Print - Fair Use vs "Microsales"

The Google Print debate has gone another round. I think it's illuminating to approach it from a mirror-image of fair use:

It's about "microsales" (really, micro-commercial use)

What's new, in an evolutionary sense, is that Google has found a way to make large amounts of money off accumulated small sales. This has led to an argument I'll call the "willful ignorance of scaling differences".

The argument runs that if a single excerpt can be fair use in a vaguely commercial context (e.g. quoting a snippet in a review, even if it's a paid review), then an unlimited number of excerpts (scale in one direction) in a purely commercial context (scale in another direction) are theoretically identical.

This doesn't follow. The result is in fact, "undefined". Like the saying "The Constitution is not a suicide pact", it's arguable that fair use is not license for market-death by a thousand cuts.

The issue didn't arise before, because there wasn't a context where this sort of usage could be marketed in a large scale. But in retrospect, the problem arises very clearly from lowered transaction costs.

But it's not obvious that the authors and publishers are right either. Google's certainly providing a service where stifling it with rights clearances seems inadvisable. That's not going to benefit either authors or publishers - only lawyers!

Has anyone explored that some sort of mechanical license might be better than winner-take-all?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , google | on November 18, 2005 02:51 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


I have made a similar point. Google is not only serving one snippet to one searcher, but many to many.

That is relevant when talking about the "portion used" under Section 107. I think serving lots of snippets all over the book means that _Google_ is using the whole book, even if individual searchers only get to look at a view lines.

Posted by: Karl-Friedrich Lenz at November 19, 2005 09:40 AM

And again, it assumes the only commercial value for the author/publisher is in the work as a whole, so snippets don't undercut that.

But in the case of recipes, I may only need one or two pages in a longer book.

Not only that, but if you really know how to search and which terms to use, Amazon and Google can easily be used to read longer sections of a work, as I've done with Our Bodies Ourselves or even to read a complete short-story within a collection. Not an ideal reading experience, but eminently doable.

Posted by: Lis Riba at November 21, 2005 03:13 PM

Lis Riba,

The Google Library project will not present snippets of page size, only a few words on the left and right of the query. You might be confused with the other Google programme, which is being done on opt-in basis, and is, IIRC, called Google Print project.

So, for the Google Library project, it is impossible to find a full recipe (unless it's something like "crack egg, scramble, fry") and for the second it is being done with publisher/authorial approval.

Let's try to keep things clear and not create more confusion and uncertainty on this.

Posted by: David at November 26, 2005 06:09 AM