Sunday, January 24, 2010

Google street view

Makes my bum look big.
The street view cars went through Victoria this past summer, and I saw them while biking home. The other night I got around to looking for myself (the views went up in December), by slowly panning along Henderson.
There's a front view, with face blurred, and a back view, which sadly needs some bum-blurring technology.

Every now and then I try to educate myself about the Google book settlement, but it never works. Today's article in the Times Colonist (yes, the Victoria newspaper really is called The Colonist) once again rebuffed me. I was sent reeling off, muttering "Agh, bad bad metaphors, agh, you are writers dammit, an analogy is not an argument, agh...."
I wasn't able to read past the second column, where making a book available digitally is likened to stealing a book from a bookshop.
Except not.
There's a difference, okay, between the content of a book (text) and the physical object of a book (paper & glue), which makes this even more complicated. A book-object, unlike jewelry or old coins, has no intrinsic value.
It can have heaps and heaps of extrinsic / assigned value. I see this on the Booksleuth forum, where someone desperately wants the edition of something that they read as a child, as close as possible to that copy they handled, with their jammy thumb-prints on it, ideally. Other readers just want the text, and would be happy to read it on Project Gutenberg.

My for-real job that pays the bills is finding and ordering out-of-print books online. Out of print means that they're often used books, and in no case is the author getting a penny for that sale. Booksellers get something, and that's good, because bookselling is good just as libraries are good, and more people having access to more books is good...
Which seems to lead me to Google books being good. Although it is clearly vastly more complex than that. Possibly more complex than I can understand. Though at least I've heard of the used book market and of interlibrary loan, which puts me ahead of Sergey Brin, who doesn't know about ILLO, as noted by the Avocado back in October.
Brin's on-record cluelessness about real-world availability of OOP books doesn't make me trust that Google knows what it's doing, and the argument-by-bad-metaphor and similar ignoring of the used book market by writers doesn't make me trust that they have a better grasp of what the realistic problems may be.
A writer 'and former lawyer' is quoted at the end of the TC article with what I in my ignorance would call a classic slippery-slope argument:
If they're allowed to get away with this, what else is any huge multinational corporation going to be allowed to get away with?
From Bhopal to books online, what will corporations descend to next?< / sarcasm >
Okay, I'm sorry, that was unfair of me, but the suggestion that corporations haven't been getting away with abuses until now (ie, when they touch on that speaker's rights) kinda reeks of privilege.

Maybe I'll try again to understand the issues, in six months or so. I can make it a regular checkup. But I'm doubting that there will be any real coming to terms. It's sort of like the fanfiction issue, only with the possibility of someone making money.


John said...

My best understanding is that people are unhappy with Google's solution to the "orphan works" problem. Google doesn't want to do the due diligence of finding the copyright owner and getting permission for each other. It wants to invert the process. i.e., for each work, have the author tell Google that the work is not orphaned.

I have to admit that from an engineering viewpoint, it actually makes a lot of sense. It distributes to work out to the people who have the information. A lot of people do a little work rather than one organization doing a lot of work. Unfortunately, "Shoot first and ask permission later" isn't how copyright works.

(Perhaps one solution to this is to simplify copyright law so that the rules in play don't depend on date of initial copyright, and allow copyright to actually expire. If it were easy to determine a work is in public domain and works entered public domain in a timely fashion, orphaned works would be nearly as big an issue.)

batgirl said...

Now, you didn't use any metaphors suggesting that books are like toothpicks or unicorns, and I pretty much understood what you said.

I will at this point confess that on several occasions I have completely photocopied out-of-print children's books and sent those copies to people who could not find a copy for sale under several hundred dollars or at all.
And I did this for free.