Tim O’Reilly has published excerpts of a debate he and Lauren Weinstein have been having over whether it’s ethical for Google to scan copyrighted works and let people search the contents without compensating the owners of the copyright.
There’s one angle that is not brought up in the debate. Google already scans billions of copyrighted works and provides access to them via search — I refer of course to works published on the Internet. Newspaper and magazine articles, software documentation, weblog entries, academic pieces; all of these are works protected by copyright and yet Google and other search engines index them to enable the rest of us to access them easily.
The books in question are already available for free public access via libraries. Why then should Google be barred from scanning them and enabling people to search them? Maybe there’s a difference here that I’m not seeing.
Update: Count Karl Auerbach among the people who take the opposite side as me, which is that search engines should stop indexing Web content without permission in addition to not indexing books.