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Etiquette advice for Google Book Search

Dan Blacharski, a columnist for ITworld.com, has weighed in on the Microsoft vs. Google book search debate, pointing out that while it is fashionable to bash Microsoft as a corporate bully, the Microsoft Live Book Search system treats copyright holders more fairly than Google Book Search does, because Microsoft only “displays books that are past their copyright, or have been specifically authorized by the copyright holder.”

The big question is that do I, as a creator of content and writer of books, have a problem with my books being on Google Book Search? It’s a tough question. When a library carries one of my books, they have purchased it from the publisher, and I get my fifty cents worth of royalty payment. But a library makes that book available only to a local community; if an online library makes a book available in digital form to the entire world, there should be adequate compensation to the author. But as I said, that’s not what Google is doing. They are, however, providing a summary, table of contents, title page, index, and copyright page, a link to buy the book, and a place to search the book. Search results will show snippets of text, maybe a few paragraphs, related to the search. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like such an egregious imposition on my rights, and it may help me sell a few books in the process. The grey area comes in deciding whether Google has a right to scan and index those books without permission from the publisher. Publishers may well decide it’s to their advantage to grant permission-but it would be more fair for Google to seek out that permission before scanning.

A Google feature in TIME magazine last year reported that the company’s founders use the informal corporate motto “don’t be evil.” Perhaps they also should add a corollary from everybody’s mom: “And always ask politely before you borrow something.”