- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

NEW YORK. — A lawsuit by the Authors Guild and sundry others against Google provokes some thought on writing, publishing, the Internet and this wondrous thing called Google.

The lawsuit alleges Google is about to perpetrate vast copyright infringement. This $90 billion search engine will soon increase its business by scanning the entire contents of five of the world’s leading libraries and making the contents searchable for free to anyone capable of gazing into a computer.

But much of the printed material to be scanned by Google is copyrighted and ought not be used without paying publishers and authors. This strikes me as indisputable. But before reviewing the issues raised by the Authors Guild, allow me to bring up problems with the Internet that have troubled me as long as I have used it.

When I go to a library to borrow a book, I can be pretty certain there has been no tampering with the contents. When I buy a magazine, I can be completely certain I am getting a writer’s work as it appeared in that magazine. Can I be equally certain when I take writing off the Internet that it has not been adulterated? Can I be sure of its authenticity? I doubt it.

This raises quite another point but one related to the question of the authority of what passes across the Internet. Much of it abounds with error, some of which is difficult to discern.

Old media representatives who wail that the Internet suffers from a lack of editors have a point. I just have no idea how to resolve their concerns consistent with sound libertarian principles — but to return to the question of the authenticity of writing carried across the Internet.

The other day I was talking to a writer about an article of his I had read. I thought the article had been published in New York magazine. He told me it was from the New Yorker, a minor clarification, perhaps, but suggestive of the problem I raise.

As the pages were printed from the Internet, they lacked the New Yorker’s distinctive type style. In fact, any other evidence that the piece came from one magazine or another could be faked. For that matter, even the contents could be faked.

Someone sending me this piece across the Internet could deceive me in a way that someone delivering a magazine to me or even photocopied pages of a magazine could not.

Print that comes across the Internet is not as trustworthy as print one buys in a store or picks up in a library. Such print is more difficult to obtain and more expensive, but also more real.

The books Google intends to scan may be adulterated. I think that is a problem. Undoubtedly the Internet is here to stay and will increasingly convey print, but it has its problems.

In the case of Google, there is the other problem of not compensating publishers and authors for their work. Both have intellectual property rights that must be respected if publishing and writing are to continue as profitable endeavors.

Google proposes to scan and make available great chunks of books for free. It might be one thing to make books from the public domain, say Shakespeare or Chaucer, free. But it is a kind of pilfering to lift copyrighted work.

Google claims it is only doing on a vast scale what libraries do on a small scale. Yet there is a difference. Google is a commercial enterprise, a library is not. Google is making a profit from ill-gotten material.

There is a way the interests of both sides in this squabble can be resolved. In the Napster controversy, musicians were ripped off when their fans uploaded their music and distributed it freely. The musicians and their representatives fought this copyright infringement and now get fair compensation via iTunes and similar arrangements.

Doubtless this wondrous thing called Google will arrive at a similar arrangement. Yet for now there is a legal battle and only the lawyers can be happy.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”


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