Lawyer takes a look at what Google’s doing with books

Andrew Schiller

Copyright lawyer Jonathan Band doesn’t know who owns the copyright to his book about software copyright law.

At yesterday’s “Google and the Future of Scholarship” presentation, Band talked about the significance of copyright law. He was a partner at a law firm when he wrote the book, and he was never required to assign the copyright, but he figured he had kept it.

“I left that firm two years ago,” Band said. “As I was walking my way out the door, they said, ‘Oh, by the way, we own the copyright to the book and all of the articles.’ And I said, ‘What?’

“We worked out an agreement where I agreed that they have the copyright, but then I have a license to do whatever I want with any of the work,” he said.

“So, who has the right to authorize the digitization? Is it me? Is it Harper Collins? Is it Morrison and Foerster? I don’t know, I really don’t know – and I’m a copyright lawyer.”

Band said his story is just one example of what Google might have to go through to get just one book into its Google Library Project.

“Can you imagine clearing the rights for 24 million volumes?” Band said.

Of the 30 million books Google might include in its online collection, about 20 percent – 24 million books – are in the public domain, he said.

The Google Library Project is an attempt to create a large book index and put some or all of each book onto the Web, Band said.

“There’s no question it will allow lazy students to be lazier,” he said.

Copyrighted books will only be viewable in snippets, which are about 10 to 15 sentences surrounding a keyword and will only have three viewable snippets. But books in the public domain will be posted in their entirety, he said.

Google also has the Partner Program, which sets up agreements to put more than just snippets of copyrighted books into the collection. The copyright owner and Google usually share the ad revenue, Band said.

Confusion between the Partner Program and the project itself has been part of the problem, he said. Another issue is the fact that although Google won’t necessarily put an entire copyrighted book on the Web, it will have the book on its servers. Critics have pointed out that anyone who hacked the right servers would have access to Google’s vast book collection.

Will Underwood, director of the Kent State University Press, said Google didn’t reveal the Google Library Project until after it had been providing the Partner Program service.

“Publishers felt a little bit blind-sided,” he said.

Band said the very act of copying books into the Google Library Project may be illegal.

“Google will escape liability only if a court finds its copying permitted under the fair use doctrine,” he said.

He also said copyright law probably affects more Americans than any other area of law. Decades ago, that wasn’t the case, Band said. But because of digital technology, “the rampant nature of copying has really been brought into the home.”

He pointed out that not every copy – a song transferred to an iPod or a forwarded e-mail joke – is necessarily illegal, but it might be.

“It’s a copy, and therefore, you have to analyze its status,” Band said. “Is it legal or is it not legal?”

Contact libraries and information reporter Andrew Schiller at [email protected].