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Are You a Content Pirate?

May 27th, 2005 by Bob Bly

If you download copyrighted digital content without paying for it ? music, movies, books, articles ? you?re stealing from the creator of the material, pure and simple.

Now, according to an article in BusinessWeek (6/6/02), Google is planning to scan the complete texts of millions of books from major libraries around the world and make them searchable online.

?Problem No. 1 is that Google?s plan is a clear violation of copyright laws,? reports BusinessWeek.

The article quotes Peter Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, who notes that the Google plan ?appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale.?

As an author, I am outraged. What Google is doing is not much different than raiding a farmer?s field at night, harvesting all the crops, and giving it away to hungry people ? without paying the farmer a dime.

Forget ?Citizen?s Publishing.? If you want to give away your work on the Internet for free, that?s your business.

But if you take my copyrighted work and post it on your site without my permission, you?re a thief ? and, like any thief, you should be punished if caught. Right?


This entry was posted on Friday, May 27th, 2005 at 5:51 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

79 responses about “Are You a Content Pirate?”

  1. Don Burns said:

    What happened to the “Fair Use” doctrine? As long as the lifted material is posted to discuss & exchange ideas and not for profit, frankly, I see very little piracy. Besides, if the information is obtained from a nonpaying or non-subscription site, that justifies the fair use doctrine even more so.

  2. Harry Joiner said:

    What Google plans on doing is a violation of the Law of Common Decency. Perhaps Google will find a loophole which makes this plan “legal” – but that won’t make it right. (After all, abortion is legal.) Far too often in our society, people confuse “freedom” with “license.” They are two entirely different things.

  3. Rimantas said:

    Searchable is not the same as available.

    Google said it would make available full versions of public-domain books online, while making only “snippets” of copyrighted text available.


    This may be benefit for the authors — this way many more people would become aware of books they knew nothing about.

    On the other hand, even being available for free may be good for the authors.
    Godin’s “Unleashing the ideavirus” comes to mind — this book is available online for free. It was before the paper version was issued. And what have happened when hardcopy was available?

    The book went to number 5 on the Amazon bestseller list within forty eight hours of being on sale

    Books are no fun to read on screen, so if it is worth it, people will buy it, and Google will only bring you more readers. If it is not worth it, if people are not willing to read it for free, they are even less willing to pay for it, so author doesn’t loose much…

  4. Ray Edwards said:

    There are good arguments that making books available for free might be good marketing – Godin’s book is an example. However – Godin’s book is also a bit misleading, since it was about the very phenomenah he was trying to demonstrate by giving away the book.

    As an author, I have to side with Bob on this one: don’t steal my work. I don’t care if you ARE Google.

  5. Joel Heffner said:

    Amazon offera a similar searchable ability with some books, including some of Bob’s. It allows potential buyers to get a sense of what’s inside. It’s kind of like a person in a bookstore who goes through a book before he/she buys it. Although providing all of the book online would be terrible, allowing a person to get a glipse of it would probably help authors in the long run. If asked, I wonder how many authors would allow Google to do it.


  6. TonyD said:

    It so happens that I have Bob’s book “Secrets of a Freelance Writer” right in front of me. There’s a great section at the back with model sales and promotional documents, letters, etc. Highly valuable to a guy like me who’s still in the early stages of building his business. Also emminently stealable if the full text is posted online.

    Google is stepping into a minefield here. I’ll wait to see what their plan is though, before I get too worked up.

  7. Michael D. Pollock said:

    Google is not giving away the entire book. Just portions:

    This is from the Google Print page:

    “Just do a search on the Google Print homepage. When we find a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, we’ll link to it in your search results. Click a book title and you’ll see the page of the book that has your search terms, along with other information about the book and “Buy this Book” links to online bookstores (you can view the entirety of public domain books or, for books under copyright, just a few pages or in some cases, only the title’s bibliographic data and brief snippets). You can also search for more information within that specific book and find nearby libraries that have it.”

    To me this is no different than going to a Borders and breezing through a book before you buy it. Or just read the whole thing without buying it.

    Stealing copyrighted material is cleary offensive and punishable, but that’s not what’s happening here.

  8. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Great topic Bob. Piracy is stealing, plain and simple. We need to examine exactly what Google is planning to do before we jump the gun. It seems to me – according to a comment above – that those works already in public domain are the only books they will copy. Is that true? If it is, then what’s the argument?

    As for showing snippets, this should be the authors/publishers choice in my opinion. “Seeding” or the free sample is a great marketing tactic but if the copyright holder is uncomfortable with it then Amazon shouldn’t have the option to sample.

    Digitally available content has changed our copyright world. Piracy is a big issue but we have clear laws that deal with it. My fascination is in derivative works. When is a work considered derivative? I read Bob’s ideas, filter then through my thoughts and write on the same topic. I even use some of the same words he used. That is considered OK; reading Bob’s work is research.

    When does it become NOT Ok?

  9. Michael D. Pollock said:

    More from Google:

    “Google respects the rights of copyright holders and the tremendous creative effort of authors, which is why we’re only allowing users to view the full texts of books when they’re in the public domain. We will also show a few pages from a book when we have an agreement to do so from the publisher. Books that are still in copyright will show up in our search results, but users will only be able to view very small text snippets and/or bibliographic information until we get permission from the publisher to show full page views. Click here for screenshots and more specific information.”

  10. Jason said:

    If Google were posting your books in their entirety, that would be unethical and certainly illegal since you presumably own the copyrights.

    It looks like Google may be doing you a favor though. If people can do a search and learn that your book answers their question and Google includes a link to where they can buy the book, everyone wins. Sounds like great target marketing you will get for free.

  11. Yvonne DiVita said:

    Michael Pollock is right. Google’s purpose is to help authors compete with the backlog of “search inside the book” at Amazon. We are still waiting, several months laters, for Amazon to impelement that option for one of our authors. Google is not trying to steal anything…and if you think readers don’t go into Barnes and Noble and leaf through your book before buying — hey, some folks might even read ALL of it and NOT buy — you’re only fooling yourself. I sold more of my book once Amazon’s “search inside the book” went live, than I did before it went live. Bob, you are so right about infringing on copyright (as you’ve pointed out to me and for which I thank you) but…this is not copyright infringement. It’s a great way to help sell boolks.

  12. Harry Joiner said:

    I’m not so sure, Yvonne. People go to Amazon for the same reason people watch QVC: To browse and buy product. Google is a research tool, and Google’s launch of Froogle is Google’s defacto acknowledgement that shopping and research are two completely different applications. By putting books online, Google is allowing writers, researchers, and anyone else to pull snippets of books out of their original context and into new documents. I see no difference between this and music sampling. In both cases, the artists should be compensated for their value. For if there’s no value, why would Google bother to put the books online in the first place?

  13. Arvella Bagwell said:

    I agree, that Google is liable. I don’t believe that should be allowed since it is clearly against the law. I am an unpublished author and think that shouldn’t even be considered.

  14. Arvella Bagwell said:

    If you owened a home and had it up for sale how upset would you be that hundreds of people saw this as an opportunity to get whatever they wanted or needed from that house at no cost to them. This is the same thing, it’s one thing to read a discription of the contents and totally unacceptable to make the entire book available on line.

  15. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Bob, go to, type in the URL for your COPYWRITING page (or any other page for that matter), and see how many websites have “modeled” your copy. The results may surprise you. But, then again, you may be flattered rather than annoyed.

    Is it stealing? Honestly, I don’t know.

  16. Jacob Willard said:

    Why is it that I stay up nights and wake up early every morning writing??? I certainly would enjoy a little extra sleep. I do this because I love writing and working towards getting my product in print, (It will be great to someday say, “seeing my product in print”). I don’t do this so I can give away my work. In essence this is what they are going to be doing for us. I don’t see any difference between forcing dentists to perform work for free and giving away my writing for free. We are professionals and yet we are basically being told that we don’t deserve to get paid for what we do.

    The biggest problem really isn’t today. If this is allowed to happen and publishers see a decrease in the amount of books sold we can expect a decrease in earnings for authors. If I’m looking at the big picture and I have the option to write books for almost nothing, or write for businesses that still pay well, why would I bother with books? This will have a horrible impact on the profession as a whole. Writers are going to end up looking like teachers groups. Not nearly enough around, and half of who is are crappy.

    At least thats my take on it…

  17. Leena said:

    Interesting news from google. I do love them for so many reasons – froogle, gmaps, gmail, blogger. But as a fellow intellectual property creator, I’m not thrilled with this treading the line on copyright infringement.

    I have a different POV as a creative – as a photographer – google indexes images found online. Images are also copyright works and guess what? Once they are viewed in a browser, they can be easily retained by the viewer and certainly they are retained and used for commercial gain by some thieves. Even if not used for commercial gain, copyright gives the author the right to CONTROL the publication of their work. So to answer the first responder here in comments, fair use aside (education or newsworthy discussion), publishing someone else’s work without permission is against the law. Just like someone taking your car for a little spin is against the law – you own it, so you get to control it. Very simple concept there…

    Unlike a book, an image is complete unto itself, there are no chapters to unfold from a snippet which means a viewer must either buy or borrow the full book to get the rest of the detail. In contrast, an image is what it is at the time of it’s viewing.

    Visual creatives are FAR more adversely impacted by the proliferation of this type of indexing of “reference” material. Certainly, some of this activity does result in additional promotion for creatives but when the picking is so easy, it also appears to be a leaky sieve of privately owned property.

    There was a well publicized court case last year where the result was that search engines were basically forced into only displaying thumbnails as a fair use. Fine and well but still there is the link to lead to the larger online version….not to mention that the thumbnails have commercial application potential as well.

    Ah, the joys and heartbreaks of technology…..

    Sadly, so many “consumers” don’t seem to get it that creators make their LIVING by controlling their property. I firmly believe a concerted effort must continue by all creatives to educate the masses on copyright and how we make our living. We cannot say it often enough — people just don’t get this concept but it is of vital importance to those of us who license our work for our livelihood.

    And even more importantly, all creatives need to start sticking up for each other, acknowledging the value in other creative branches and is understanding that it is copyrighted too.

    For example, I just read a dozen of Bob’s GREAT articles on his site and was astounded to see the advice he gives in a couple to “re-use” the best photographs for DM and ads. Huh? It is not possible to safely advise re-use because the best most impactful and compelling photographs are probably licensed for a limited amount of use, with rights to those images being kept by the creator who understands perfectly well the considerable value of such work. If you want more value, more marketing oomph, from those images, you will need to license more use. And make no mistake, the best copywriting in the world will not be read if the image/design/feel of the piece doesn’t draw the reader in. Be careful to understand what you are licensing and the terms and conditions of licensing. Failing to recognize the limits on use in your license and plunging ahead blindly could end up a very expensive lesson in intellectual property rights while fending off a copyright infringement suit.

  18. John Keehler said:

    Clearly the argument can be made that this will help, not hurt copyright holders. As is demonstrated above in several instances, Google isn’t “giving away” copyrighted material… Instead, they’re empowering readers to find material they may not have otherwise found, and just offering “excerpts” or “snippets” of that content…

    I believe this will increase interest in titles that may have been virtually invisible. It will be the most comprehensive card catalog ever created… and card catalogs help you find what you’re looking for.

    Long tail anyone?

  19. Murtaza said:

    Well, I am still trying to understand How Google is going to provide Online Publishing resources. While they have already said about their “NO Evil” work. That means they may come with something which we have not even imagined. So, Just wait and Watch and Don’t call them a thief at least for now.

  20. Nello Castellano said:


    I do believe that Google has only one thing in mind by doing this: making money.

    How do they achieve this? Let’s say they do like Amazon and let people search trough the books and show few pages of the work (as Amazon does).

    What if the user wants to buy the book? They may simply refer to a bookstore (or something cobranded under their label…) and reap affiliate commission without investing on becoming a bookstore.

    Who wins? Google, the readers and the authors.

  21. roze albina shepard said:

    Yes, I totally agree with you concerning “a thief on the web”. Stealing other’s material that they worked long and hard to achieve, publish, pressing onward to their goal, days and nights to conquer, constitues punishment. Most everyone wants something for nothing. I believe it’s due to the fact of having to choose their paid delight, these days to meet their greed quota. But none-the-less, as with what you’re saying, I agree, if anyone steals from your work, they should be punished. I too am an upcoming writer (speaking it into existence with smiles) and would be very outraged if someone should steal my work. And maybe the problem is, those who are doing the stealing, are the one who have NO clue what hard work truly is.

  22. Don Marti said:

    I have played with Google Print and I’m surprised how faithful of a simulation of “pick up the book at the bookstore and look at a couple pages” it is. It really isn’t a substitute for having the whole book. If this isn’t fair use, real-world bookstores that encourage browsing with comfy chairs and make their money on coffee are in trouble.

    Stanford has a helpful “Is it fair use?” page.

  23. davinci990 said:

    The original Internet– ARPANET– was a way for college professors and researchers to freely exchange theories and research. Then came the commercial instincts of the market. The entire undercarriage construction of the Internet is too open to fluid sharing, and makes a lousy commercial vehicle. Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) was invented to remedy this. Stop whining and use better tools.

    On another note regarding Copyright, I fall on the side of the purists who read the Founding Fathers intent that the living author and his estate should benefit for a reasonable time. In this way, commerce could be magnified and extended by different brains at work on that one idea. “There is nothing new under the sun.” The Founders considered ideas as gifts from the Creator. That creator made zillions of us, so I think community is key; rootword “commune”– can be construed as sharing– helping hands, bread… ideas.

    Bob, skillful as you are, your blog isn’t holy writ and was never meant to be owned. Your ideas are standing on the shoulders of those before you.

    Disney– who bases its fortunes on works made from the old “Public Domain” provisions– has succeeded in perverting an original idea in this country with a legal ruling suiting their lust for ever more riches. I think lust is more damaging to “community” than your description of “thievery.” The provision of “Fair Use” is deliberately indistinct– the degree of sharing depends on the reasons for borrowing an idea. Heck, Bob, I’ve made money on a loose brag of yours, and I don’t download anything you write. Keep up the good word. There are many standing on your shoulders, whether you materially profit from it or not. There’s plenty to go around, or is your god so small as to be petty?

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