Monday, October 19, 2009

Perfect Altruism

Sergey Brin's editorial in the New York Times about Google Book Search, which I write about in the Virtualpolitik book, "A Library to Last Forever," contains a number of noteworthy rhetorical features.

Perhaps Brin is at his most disingenuous when he repeatedly expresses a wish for competition, which Google certainly doesn't feel in connection with its other products.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources. At least one such service will have to exist if there are ever to be one hundred.

If Google Books is successful, others will follow. And they will have an easier path: this agreement creates a books rights registry that will encourage rights holders to come forward and will provide a convenient way for other projects to obtain permissions. While new projects will not immediately have the same rights to orphan works, the agreement will be a beacon of compromise in case of a similar lawsuit, and it will serve as a precedent for orphan works legislation, which Google has always supported and will continue to support.

Only a small snippet of the column deals with the questions raised by Siva Vaidhyanathan's forthcoming book The Googlization of Everything.

Last, there have been objections to specific aspects of the Google Books product and the future service as planned under the settlement, including questions about the quality of bibliographic information, our choice of classification system and the details of our privacy policy. These are all valid questions, and being a company that obsesses over the quality of our products, we are working hard to address them — improving bibliographic information and categorization, and further detailing our privacy policy. And if we don’t get our product right, then others will. But one thing that is sure to halt any such progress is to have no settlement at all.

The vagueness of these responses to Google's problems with metadata practices and privacy rights that are directly in conflict with their bottom line is unlikely to satisfy Vaidhyanathan and other Google critics.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home