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Why Google's Future May Doom Books

Paul Aiken, attorney for the Author's Guild, claims that Google's digitization of copyrighted material could pave the way for the demise of writers and publishers. Aiken and the Guild have sued Google, and the case is winding its way through a multi-year process. "Fair use doesn't mean free use," Aiken told a rapt audience at a presentation titled "Copyright in an Internet Age." Questioners after his talk challenged his reading of the tea leaves.

What's the difference, one woman asked, if libraries already have books free for patrons, to putting the same material on line so that it is more easily available?

Authors and publishers have the library as a client, Aiken said. Both parties understand the use. But once material is digitally available, there is no longer any market for libraries to own multiple copies of a book, and what he portrayed as a fragile publishing ecosystem begins to unravel.

In his elegant presentation, Aiken began by picking apart a story written by Kevin Kelly entitled "Scan this book," which originally ran in the New York Times Magazine in May 2006. He explained that the existing publishing industry has served reliably as a way to promote dialogue and new ideas in society by making sure that both authors and publishers make money.

"As with a forest, so it is with libraries. It is the vigor of the new growth that matters the most," Aiken said. "We meddle with our environment at our peril."

Read more:

Authors Guild press release

Scan This Book! (from the New York Times)

Sally James is a freelance writer in Seattle specializing in medicial topics. So far she has watched her own knee surgery, attended an autopsy and interviewed two Nobel laureates. She has written for Web sites, magazines, and non-profit organizations. Learn more about her work at nasw.org/users/sjames.