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Annals of openness in peril

1. The court has rejected Charlie Nesson’s basic defense of Joel Tenenbaum’s sharing of music files. The case is going to jury which may levy the same sort of insanely excessive fines as in the Jammie Thomas-Rassert trial. I hope Charlie’s team can convince the jury that the fines and the entire process are so onerous and disproportionate that the RIAA has been abusing the court system. Of course, IANAL, and IANAOTJ (I am not on the jury).

2. Barnes and Noble has launched its e-book software. It runs on iPhones as well as on PC’s and Mac’s. I’m having trouble finding which formats it supports, but judging from its Open dialogue, not PDF, .doc, .html, .mobi, or text. It does support .PBD books.

After a very very quick session playing with it, it seems quite competitive with the Kindle, and because I’m running it on my Mac and not on the little piece of crippled hardware I bought from Amazon — the Kindle is just barely adequate as a reader, and is still overpriced by more than 100% in terms of its value, imo — having the use of a keyboard and a mouse is a big step up. And, unlike the Kindle, you can use whatever fonts you have on your machine. Still, it’s only incrementally better than the Kindle’s software (again, on a quick look), not a great leap forward for readers.

One of B&N’s big advantages is that it’s hooked into Google Books, enabling you to download public domain books that Google has scanned in. You do this by searching for a book on the B&N site and noticing the “free from Google Books” label. Be sure to sort by price; otherwise B&N lists the for-pay versions first. If B&N wants to be aggressive in this space (= succeed), it should create an easy-to-find section that lets you browse Google’s free books. Get us using the ereader and then sell us the copyrighted books. (If B&N has such a section, I couldn’t find it quickly enough.)

BTW, I presume (and thus may be wrong) that Google did a special deal with B&N to enable this. If so, I find it worrisome. If Google is going to be granted a special right to scan in books without fear of copyright reprisals, it will be the de facto national e-library, discouraging others from undertaking similarly scaled scanning projects, and thus should be making its public domain books equally and maximally freely available. IMO.

2a. [Later that evening:] B&N stores are now providing free Wifi. Yay!

3. Apple is not permitting the Google telephone service into the Apple App store, thus simultaneously and inadvertently making the case for Zittrainian generativity.

4. [Later that day]: On the happy front, Google has open-sourced an implementation of Wave.

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8 Responses to “Annals of openness in peril”

  1. Tried to send you this as a tweet, but looks like you don’t check @dweinberger mentions.
    #2 is an example of one of the problems Google is currently facing in that people sometimes presume the worst without any basis for making the presumption.
    Here are a few links to Google’s PD scans being used by others:
    Note Adam Smitth’s quotation in the first of those links as he talks about Google’s strategy with respect to openness and books. The punchline is, as with your other two bits on us in this post (compare Android Market with the App Store), Google’s trying to be open.

  2. Thanks, Alex.

    I have strongly mixed feelings about the Google Books settlement — thrilled by much of it, deeply disturbed about some of it — but the articles you point to do not lay this particular worry to rest. It’s great that these PD books are available through B&N and through Sony (as per one of your links), but it concerns me that these are “deals” struck by Google. If the book settlement makes Google the dominant PD book source (much less if it creates a de facto monopoly), I think it is, let us say, sub-optimal for the intellectual ecology for Google to be deciding with whom it will do deals.

    Even if Google has the best of intentions — and I think there’s good evidence that that’s exactly what it has — I don’t want a deal-making entity between the public domain and other organizations who want to provide access to it.

  3. Longer conversation about what the right balance is between allowing an entity to recoup costs and promoting the free access and use of PD files. Google has put these materials online and made clear that though no license precludes any particular use of the files, we’d prefer that some uses not be made, such as commercial rehosting. You can see that netiquette request at the beginning of each of our PDF downloads of books. For example:
    This has led to bulk rehosting by certain groups without any discussion with Google and has not always for the best. Sometimes groups put up old worse copies of the scans. Sometime they don’t attribute where they got them from. In other circumstances we’ve seen people deceiving others into paying for these free PDFs.
    Finally note that the Amazon PoD deal was with Michigan involving our PD scans, not Google.
    However, just to be really clear, even though this costs a bundle to us, we don’t restrict readers in any way.
    Also note, this has absolutely nothing to do with the settlement. It does not cover PD. I’d be happy to talk to you about that as well if you’d like, just shoot me an email.

  4. Alex, I understand that PD is outside the settlement. But the settlement will (arguably) uniquely privilege Google as the Scanner of Libraries, including PD, orphaned works, and works whose copyright holders can be found and compensated. The settlement will (arguably) make Google uniquely privileged as the provider of access to the most complete collection of PD works. Thus my concern on this issue. (And thus my delight on other aspects of Google’s providing access to online copies of works. Mixed feelings, as I said.)

  5. David, The settlement doesn’t give us any unique privilege with respect to PD works. The reason others aren’t scanning those works has nothing to do with us or law. In one other search engine’s words, it is because book searches lack “high commercial intent.” Unfortunately we can’t convince everyone that scanning old books is important irrespective of the “commercial intent” of readers, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the settlement.
    Now we are really off on a tangent from your original point about how you presumed we wouldn’t allow others to use the scans. I hope I’ve at least cleared up that misconception.

  6. Alex, I understand that the settlement doesn’t give Google any unique privilege with respect to PD works. As I tried to say in my previous comment, the issue for me is that because the settlement gives Google unique privileges as the scanner of _libraries_, Google will end up as a de facto privileged provider of the PD works it scanned within those libraries.

    And, I actually am still unclear about the original point (or, quite likely, my original misconception). I appreciate that Google is being generous with its PD scans, and that individuals get open access to them. That goes on the happy side of my bipolar feelings about this issue. What I don’t understand is the nature of the “deals” Google is doing with entities such as Sony and B&N. A “deal” implies (at least to me), that Google is providing special access to those organizations with which it’s doing deals, and thus not providing that same access to organizations with whom it is not doing deals. Am I misunderstanding that? And has Google made the terms of these deals public?

  7. David, can you point me to some good, entry-level thinking on the issue of why it’s widely considered okay to give away copyrighted works?

    I fully understand why it’s stupid for RIAA to sue consumers, and believe their recalcitrance over digital distribution multiplied their problems. I understand that this genie is out of the bottle now (insert preferred cliché here),

    I just don’t have a handle on the moral or ethical case in favor of giving away or receiving material you don’t own. I’d like to be better informed about this debate.


  8. Howard, as far as I can tell, the thinking is of two sorts: The “I’m doing no harm” rationalization, and an argument about the profound brokenness of copyright. And that second is sometimes an instance of the first.

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