Wednesday, November 2, 2005

You’re probably reading the byline above and wondering, “What could these two, from opposite sides of the aisle in Congress, possibly have in common with each other?”

The answer is when it comes to Google’s Print Library Project we have much in common: We’re both authors and both believe intellectual property should actually mean something.

And so we find ourselves joining together to fight a $90 billion company bent on unilaterally changing copyright law to their benefit and in turn denying publishers and authors the rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.

Internet behemoth Google, plans to launch their Library project in November. It plans to scan the entire contents of the Stanford, Harvard and University of Michigan libraries and make what it calls “snippets” of the works available online, for free.

The creators and owners of these copyrighted works will not be compensated, nor has Google defined what a “snippet” is: a paragraph? A page? A chapter? A whole book? Meanwhile Google will gain a huge new revenue stream by selling ad space on library search results. Selling ads on its search engine is how Google makes 99 percent of its billions.

Not only is Google trying to rewrite copyright law, it is also crushing creativity. If publishers and authors have to spend all their time policing Google for works they have already written, it is hard to create more. Our laws say if you wish to copy someone’s work, you must get their permission. Google wants to trash that.

Google’s position essentially amounts to a license to steal, so long as it returns the loot upon a formal request by their victims. This is precisely why Google’s argument has no basis in U.S. intellectual property law or jurisprudence. Just because Google is huge, it should not be allowed to change the law.

Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt has argued the “fair use” provision in copyright law allows Google to scan copyrighted books and put them on their Web site without seeking permission. He compares this to someone at home taping a television show and watching it later. Taped TV show are watched in millions of households every night and is quite legal; rebroadcasting that show to make a buck is not.

Next time Dr. Schmidt watches television, he should keep his ears open for the common disclaimer “rebroadcast of this program without the express written consent of” the broadcaster is “prohibited.” Google’s plans are tantamount to the same thing, profiting from someone else’s work without permission. It isn’t up to the broadcaster to track down someone profiting from their work, why should it be up to publishers and authors to do so?

Authors may be the first targets in Google’s drive to make the intellectual property of others a cost-free inventory for delivery of its ad content, but we will hardly be the last. Media companies, engineering firms, software designers, architects, scientists, manufacturers, entertainers and professional services firms all produce products that could easily be considered for “fair use” by Google.

Google envisions a world in which all content is free; and of course, it controls the portal through which Internet user’s access that content. It would completely devalue everyone else’s property and massively increase the value of its own.

The company contends it will allow authors of copyrighted works to “opt-out” of the free online library by notifying Google they don’t want their works online. Most authors and publishers do not know who bought their books. And have you ever tried to get a live person on the phone at an Internet company?

And so, five publishing companies on behalf of the entire publishing industry and the Author’s Guild have filed two major lawsuits against Google seeking to stop this plan and deter such conduct in the future.

Politically, we may not agree on much. But on this, we can both agree: These lawsuits are needed to halt theft of intellectual property. To see it any other way is intellectually dishonest.

Pat Schroeder is president of the Association of American Publishers and a former member of Congress from Colorado. Bob Barr, a former member of the House Judiciary Committee, is an author, newspaper columnist and analyst for CNN.

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