The Association of American University Presses has made public a letter it sent to Google outlining copyright concerns with respect to the Google Print for Libraries program. The association and its member libraries are not too keen on Google’s high-profile project to digitize the book content from major libraries. Much of the content covered by the project is still in copyright. Google maintains that the works are being copied only for the purposes of indexing the works and making them searchable, and that full works will not be available and their copyrights thereby will be protected. The AAUP thinks the copying is itself infringement, regardless of whether full text is made available to the public. It also asserts that if Google thinks its use of the materials is fair use, then that would be an unprecedented broadening of the fair use principle.
We see a bit of gamesmanship here, and we think it’s important to consider who the players are. To get this project underway, Google had to sign agreements with all of the major libraries involved – Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, and the New York Public Library. The leaders of those organizations are hardly what you’d call copyright-naive. They went into the deal with eyes wide open and likely had no illusions about the concern the project would cause publishers. It is doubtful that they did not think through the copyright issues before partnering with Google.
From the folks at Google, the response to publishers' concerns is a gentle “trust us.” They reassure publishers that they have an open dialogue with everyone involved, that they are working to resolve the dispute to everyone’s satisfaction, that ultimately the project will be a huge benefit to everyone, etc., etc. They do everything except respond publicly to the specific copyright issues raised.
Google and the libraries involved in the project are all but saying “so sue us.” Both Google and the libraries have at their core a mission and philosophy of open access to information, even if their economic and organizational missions are very different. This conflict can be seen as a conscious attempt to push the boundaries of copyright law outward, by organizations that are well-informed about the legal issues but determined to build a more open information model.
In other parts of the information industry, everyday practice is stretching the law, not the other way around. Look at the music industry, where legitimate business models are rushing in to fill the space created by millions of music users stretching and breaking through copyright barriers with their daily practices. In Outsell’s opinion, Google and the libraries are betting that the vision of the future lies more in everyday practices than in the publishers’ current interpretations of copyright law, however correct that interpretation may be as a matter of law.