Sunday, November 20, 2005

Information Wants to Be Found

In 1984 at the first Hacker’s Convention, Stewart Brand gave words for what would become mantra to the open source, freeware, shareware, and swapping cultures engaged in negotiating the birth of a 21st century digital nation: “information wants to be free.”

Judging from the results of a meeting held at the New York Public Library on Monday night, his notion may be finding new weight in agreement at least in this measure:

Information wants to be found.

Google has been taking its place as the “library” of the 21st century, and it is to this end (as I understand it) that Google seeks to translate the print materials from three of the nation’s major universities into digitally searchable format. The emphasis here (again, as I understand it) is on the notion of “searchable,” with plans to return only three to five lines of text to any search of a digitized source and consequently remaining, as Google sees it, well within the lines of “fair use.” Authors and booksellers disagree, however, arguing that permissions should have to be acquired from copyright holders before texts can be copied and that any newly generated profits should be shared.

Representatives from various major concerns met at the NYPL on Thursday evening to air concerns at an event aptly titled, “The Battle Over Books.” Attendees at the debate included representatives from Google, the Author’s Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Lawrence Lessig (Stanford Law School and Creative Commons founder).

Of course, we’re currently inside the very topic at issue – each of us texts increasingly known even to ourselves as digital identities, so it’s understandably difficult to form a perspective able to escape the gravity of personal interest. The conversations –negotiations – have only just begun, but a part of Thursday’s installment as reported by Edward Wyatt of the NYTimes helps me to position my own thoughts in response to a piece of the discussion. Here Professor Lessig differentiates between the interests of those in the music industry raising similar concerns and those of the booksellers currently being raised in resistance to the “findability” Google means to provide:

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the university's Center for Internet and Society, also raised the question of harm. He drew a distinction between publishers and music companies, which in their Internet-related lawsuits were able to show that they were defending themselves against the losses caused by the illegal copying and sharing of music.

"What you want to do is to get a kind of revenue that right now you don't get at all," Professor Lessig said. "So it's about taking part of the value that's created here" by Google, "not about protecting yourself against losses as produced by this new technology."

Mr. Adler said Google's contention that its search program might somehow increase sales of books was speculation at best.

"When people make inquiries using Google's search engine and they come up with references to books, they are just as likely to come to this fine institution to look up those references as they are to buy them," he said, referring to the Public Library.

To which Google's Mr. Drummond replied, "Horrors."

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1 comment:

Brenda said...

Yes, I admit, I've been playing with Google's service, and I've been having fun, moving between Google and Wikipedia & rediscovering old favourties and new potentials. But, oh, with a current financially flat heart-rate, yes, I just picked up a huge armload of books that I reserved, put a on hold on, from the public library, books I found on Google's book search engine...

I suppose an author would like payment, yes, but baring that, to be read, or at least I hope so!

*hugs xo