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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Thinking outside the book
Speaking of the future of the book, as I did a couple of weeks ago and again last week, The Times of London has an article, somewhat oddly, on an event at the New York Public Library called Unbound, the topic of which was "a strange, complex and frequently obscure war that is being fought over the digitisation of the great libraries of the world." Google executives in the Google Book Search department (formerly Google Print) were in attendance, opining that "the majority of information lies outside the Internet."
That is an arresting and debatable but probably accurate point. Libraries are still great repositories of knowledge untapped by the Internet (though the Encyclopedia brings a lot of raw knowledge online). As the Times notes, "intellectual property rights and the internet are uneasy bedfellows. Google’s stated mission is 'to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful'. The words 'universally accessible' carry the implicit threat that nobody can actually own or earn revenue from any information since it will all be just out there." I don't read the mission statement quote that way, since accessible does not mean free and obviously Google hopes to make money.
But it is interesting that Google has not backed down from its clash with publishers: "American publishers are not happy. Before its 2004 announcement, Google had been doing deals with individual publishers to scan their books. But digitising the libraries would seem to render these deals defunct." The battle over intellectual property in the information age continues.