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Google Print put on pause

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The irresistible force of Google Inc. has bumped into the immovable object of copyright, with the result that Google is calling a brief truce.

Last night, the internet company said it would halt scanning in copyrighted book material as part of its Print project. Google has antagonized libraries and rights holders by opting them into its program. Concerns have also been expressed about libraries compromising their public interest mission by ceding control to Google, a private for-profit corporation.

Google intends to make full text searches of the books available to users for free, but won't share revenue with the rights holders. Meanwhile the Print project could become a lucrative venture for the Google corporation itself, allowing it to take a revenue cut from purchase links and contextual text advertisements.

So far, we've seen Google excercise the first, but not the second option. Google Print offers "Buy This Book" links to books it has scanned; we've yet to see advertisements for say, insecticide around Kafka's Metamorphosis. The Association of American Publishers, the Association of American University Presses and the Libraries' Association have all voiced objections.

Earlier this year Google called a halt in Europe after vocifierous opposition from rights holders and the EU. Yesterday, Google said it would pause its scanners in the US, too.

"We won't scan any in-copyright books from now until this November," wrote Google Print Product Manager Adam Smith. "We're going to continue talking about Google Print with our partners and the publishing industry."

It's not going to assuage the rights holders, however.

"Google's procedure shifts the responsibility for preventing infringement to the copyright owner rather than the user, turning every principle of copyright law on its ear," the AAP said in a statement.

"I think the libraries are getting played badly here and they are violating their own principles of openness and public service by letting Google take charge and set the terms of this service," wrote author and journalist Siva Vaidhyanathan of New York University.

"Google might be a very good corporation - one of the best ever, probably. But it's still not a library. Let's try to remember that," he added.

The libraries and publishers' concerns are quite rational - it's wrong to tar librarians, who've devoted their lives to making information accessible - as copyright hoarders. As the UK Publishers' Association pointed out in February, books cost money and 87 per cent of their revenue must be generated through commercial arrangements.

So as we've seen with digital music, this is a compensation issue, rather a copyright issue. The most convincing way Google can demonstrate good faith is to share the revenue. As even the most cloistered librarian has noticed, Google Inc. has quite a pile of that. Its market valuation reached $80bn earlier this year, larger than Time Warner Inc.®

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