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Google Recants ? But Not Nearly Enough

August 13th, 2005 by Bob Bly

In an earlier post on this blog, I criticized Google for its plan to scan copyrighted books without permission, calling them ?copyright pirates.?

Now an article in the Record (8/13/05) reports: ?Stung by a publishing industry backlash, Google has halted its effort to scan copyrighted books so the material can be indexed in its search engine.?

However, they are STILL copyright pirates.

The suspension remains effect only until November, giving publishers time to notify Google which copyrighted books they DON?T want scanned.

The Record notes that this scheme ?effectively requires the industry to opt out of the program instead of opting in.?

But wait a minute. That?s CONTRARY to the accepted Internet practice of ?permission marketing,? where the Internet marketer can?t act until I opt in.

So why can Google now copy, scan, and distribute the books I?ve written unless my publisher or I deliberately tell them they can’t?

Also, Google plans to contact the publishers of the copyrighted books only ? not the authors.

But for out of print books, the rights typically revert to the AUTHOR ? so it should be up to ME whether I give Google permission to scan my out of print books.



This entry was posted on Saturday, August 13th, 2005 at 9:11 am and is filed under Writing and the Internet. 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.

58 responses about “Google Recants ? But Not Nearly Enough”

  1. René said:

    Quite right. The copyright holder needs to give permission. This is basic copyright law, at least in my country. Since copyright is based on international treaty’s I assume it’s more or less the same in whatever country Google is doing this in.

  2. Joel Heffner said:

    Your question will probably be settled in court when an author (like you) files a class action lawsuit.


  3. Brian Ward said:

    Doesn’t the copyright notice at the beginning of most books clearly state what reproduction is permitted (e.g. short excerpts for review) and what is not? I would think that this applies as much to Google as to anyone else. How does Amazon handle copyright when it allows visitors to ‘look inside the book’?

  4. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    It gets worse. Google plans on selling ads on the pages of books that they display in search results. So THEY make money — and YOU (the author) don’t.

    Adam Smith, the Google guy in charge of this project, says they are doing this under the “fair use” copyright law, which allows people to reproduce smalls amounts of copyrighted material.

    But this is hardly small amounts. They’re scanning complete books!

    And this is not “fair use”. This is pirating. They’re taking something that doesn’t belong to them and making money with it.

    If this continues, with the general public not caring all that much, a lot of great authors will simply call it quits. And that will be a sad day folks.

  5. Adam Scrimshire said:

    They’re scanning complete books so they become searchable, not viewable. I suggest you take a look at the actual proposal. This should be a bonus for any author as it makes it possible for more people to become aware of your book and then purchase it based on relevance.

    Strikes me I can walk into a library and read more of your book for free than I can here.

    Please take a moment to read properly:

    Seems to be a good resource that could actually boost publication sales round the world, which can only be a good thing. No?

  6. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Adam, of course I have read Google’s proposal and I do understand it properly. But it doesn’t change the facts.

    Google plans to scan the complete text of copyrighted books and use these scans for commercial purposes — without the copyright owner’s permission. That’s piracy.

  7. Bob Bly said:


    As the author of more than 60 published books, I want to politely suggest that you don’t get it. That the scanning may benefit me is irrelevant. The fact is that I am the copyright holder, and you cannot reproduce copyrighted work in any way (fair use excepted) without permission … whether you think it’s “good” for the copyright holder or not.

  8. Joel Heffner said:

    Bob (and others),

    What if Google did it the right way and asked for your permission first? Would you give permission to Google?


  9. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: Most likely yes. But it has to be the copyright holder’s choice, not theirs.

  10. Matt said:

    Bob, I think you and other authors are missing the boat on this one. Through Google, your works can reach a huge new audience. The move will actually help, not hinder, book sales. More thoughts:

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Matt: For the umpteenth time, it DOESN’T MATTER whether what Google is doing is good or bad for me. They are stealing my material and profiting from it without my permission. I am going to go to your blog now, lift copy you have written for your clients, and sell it to my clients as my own. I hope you don’t mind; the broad exposure will be good for you … I hope.

  12. Bob Bly said:

    Matt: So it’s OK for me to steal your copy or anything else from you, as long as I know it’s good for you?

  13. Matt said:

    Bob: I guess that depends on your definition of “steal.” If, for example, Google stole the entire contents of your legendary “The Copywriter’s Handbook” and resold it as “Google’s Copywriting Handbook,” that’s clearly stealing.

    But making a limited portion of your book available as a return in a search creates awareness for your book among whole new audiences who may have been previously unaware of your work–and, by the nature of their search, are perfect candidates to buy your entire book once they get a small sample.

    I understand your initial reaction to Google’s brazen approach. But I think it’s a great opportunity for you–and a lot of other authors–to sell more books.

    As an aside, it’s sort of laughable to me that I am debating Bob Bly. What do I know? But that’s the great thing about the Internet–it connects us to people we never dreamed we’d be connected to.

  14. Stan Smith said:

    I agree, Bob. If a work is still in copyright (even if out of print), that copyright must be respected by Google and everyone else. Making it available on the Web without permission is just giving it away.

    As an author of several books of my own and a publisher of a public domain book, I have to see both sides of the copyright question. Innocent mistakes get made, of course – I’ve made them, and have apologized and made amends – but Google’s action opens a Pandora’s box. And making it an opt-out exercise wrongly puts the burden on publishers to stop them.

  15. Matt said:

    One additional comment: Google did violate existing copyright laws. Whether those laws still work for the way information moves through society today is an entirely different issue.

  16. Bonnie said:

    How is it that a powerhouse like Google can get away with scanning books without an author’s permission, but a local newspaper would be held to the “fair use” rule (50 words, I believe)? And what about books of sheet music–are they exempt? Last I checked, music is held to much stricer usage rules.

    What are literary attorneys saying about it–anyone know?

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Matt: NOW we agree. Google violated existing copyright laws. To copy my books, they have to work through the courts to change the law, and that’s a whole other discussion incorporating your notion of what’s good for authors. But we are required to obey laws as they exist today, and on that basis, Google is a copyright pirate!

  18. Adam Scrimshire said:

    I appreciate my comment may appear rude or brash Bob, and I apologise. But I really think that in a world where we all accept there is a constant threat to the ‘book’ there is potential here to link up young ‘googlers’ with important works that have already been published. Maybe even draw them away from some of the less useful, badly written blogs on the web (clearly not including yours here) and direct them to high quality printed text that has been well written, carefully thought through and thoroughly edited.

    Incidentally I write from the point of view of a publisher. I do accept the copyright issue here but really see the huge benefits business-wise and socially of such a feature. Take up should be huge because it’s Google, most of us probably witnessed the mass of interest over Google Maps.

    How do we think Google should go about this project? Or in your view is there really no way of building an online library like this?

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Adam: Google needs to secure written permission from whoever owns the rights (publisher or author) to every book they need to scan.

  20. Danny said:

    Let me pose this hypothetical question…let’s say I’m doing writing an article. In this article, for which I have been paid, I have pulled quotes from a published book that fall within the fair-use clause.

    However, in the course of my research at the library, I have made photocopies of ten pages of this book, both to look over at my leisure and to document the context of the quotes I used.

    I have reproduced extensive sections of the book for work I have been paid for, even though only a small section of the book made it into the published article.

    In such a case, have I stolen from the author?

  21. Richard Leader said:

    Interesting one here, Bob. I’ve long been an advocate of watching the porn industry to spot forthcoming trends for the rest of the online content industry.
    And here’s a porn company taking legal action against Google for infringement of copyright:

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