Google Library, The Lawsuits, and Is Charkin Barking Up the Right Tree?

Evan Schnittman in the Oxford University Press blog:

To avoid confusion lets get everyone on the same page. Google Library (GL, as opposed to Google Book Search) is a program that has scanning facilities set up at 17+ libraries around the globe. These facilities digitize the print books in a given collection and then index the text so that it can be discovered by Google’s search engine. The search engine displays only a snippet (250 characters or so) of the book when there is a search hit, if the book is in copyright. In exchange for sharing their collections, Google gives a digital file of each book to the library for their archives. GL should not be confused with Google Book Search (GBS), which is a publisher sanctioned program in which Google licenses the right, from publishers, to digitize, index, and display 20% of a book for the purpose of making it “discoverable” in Google’s search engine. See The ABC’s of GBS, Part 1 for a complete description.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been some buzz in the tech and publishing blogosphere over a stunt pulled by Macmillan’s UK-based CEO Richard Charkin at BEA (Book Expo America). In an effort to illustrate his view on GL, Charkin went into the Google stand with an accomplice, took two laptops, and waited nearby to see what would happen (see Charkblog). After some time, a Google rep asked what was going on – Charkin pointed out that he was doing exactly what Google was doing to publishers. As “there was no sign that said ’do not steal the laptops,’” and, therefore, he felt the right to walk off with one. While I found this extremely amusing as a prank – (Charkin Punk’d Google!) I think the effort missed on a major point.

Google interpreted copyright law in a search engine friendly manner and decided that the act of digitizing books found in libraries, indexing that content, and then displaying only the smallest “snippet” of that content (250 characters), was no different than what they do spidering the internet and displaying snippet results. This is where the world of the internet and book publishing collide culturally – Charkin sees this as theft, Google sees it as how they operate on the internet – indexing content in order to make it discoverable without having to ask permission…

More here.  [Thanks to Rebecca Ford.]