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Cover "The Master Switch"Tim Wu, 2010: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The main theme of “The Master Switch” is the “oscillation of information industries between open and closed”, a phenomenon  Tim Wu finds and tracks in “any of the past century’s transformative technologies, whether telephony, radio, television, or film”, referring to it simply as “the Cycle” (p. 6). The historical description unsurprisingly culminates in an analysis of current battles around net neutrality and the openess of the internet.

Wu sees “a chasm opened between Google and its allies like Amazon, eBay, and nonprofits like Wikipedia on the one side and Apple, AT&T, and the entertainment conglomerates on the other” (p. 289).  Those two coalitions, however, are not to be considered “one pack of wolves chasing another” but rather as “polar bears battling lions for domination of the world”:

“Each animal, insuperably dominant in its natural element – the polar bear on ice and snow, the lion on the open plains – will undertake a land grab where it has no natural business being. The only practicable strategy will be a campaign of climate change, the polar bears seeking to cover as much of the world with snow as they can, while the lion tries to coax a savannah from the edges of a tundra.” (p. 289-290)  Read the rest of this entry »

The first large scale private attempt to both resolve the problem of orphan works and at the same time create new revenue models in the market for books has failed. This week, Circuit Judge Denny Chin rejected the Google Book Settlement in an 48-page-long ruling (PDF). Whether an approval of the so-called “Google Book Settlement” would have been for the good or the bad was highly controversial (see “Pamela Samuelson on the Future of Books in Cyberspace“) and the related discussions have not been futile. The whole Google Books controversy highlights the opportunities and dangers of all-embracing and essentially private regulatory frameworks for the access to books in the digital age (see “Angry Librarians: The eBook User’s Bill of Rights“).

Many blogs specialized on IP issues have immediately started to discuss the short- and long-term consequences of this decision so that for an general overview I just recommend some of these postings:

Grimmelmann is the only one of these commentators that also briefly mentioned the international dimension of the ruling. He summarizes as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Books are the most traditional of all copyrightable works. Copyright as a legal institution was developed particularly for protecting authors and publishers of books. Over the years, copyrights have been granted to creators of all kinds of works, ranging from music over films to software. While most of these other types of copyrighted works are strongly affected by new forms of content production and distribution in the course of the so-called “digital revolution”, books seem to have been relatively immune to the very same technological changes – at least until Google started with the mass digitization of books and Amazon launched its increasingly popular e-book-reader “Kindle” (see “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy: Merging Conflict Arenas?“).

Especially Google Book Search (GBS) has inspired intense controversies between supporters, painting the highly optimistic picture of universal access to all books ever published for virtually everybody, and adversaries, fearing the rise of a knowledge monopolist, who exploits authors, publishers and readers alike. The best and most comprehensive comparison of both lines of argumentation I have encountered so far is a recent piece by Berkeley’s Pamela Samuelson titled “Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace” (PDF).

After identifying overly restrictive copyright as the major impediment for any mass digitization project, Samuelson turns to the pros and cons of the GBS settlement in its current, amended version. As optimistic predictions she lists the following: Read the rest of this entry »

Interestingly enough, two of the most visible current copyright related conflicts are in the realm of the most classic of all copyrighted media: books. On the one hand, Google books tries to digitize and eventually offer online nothing less then all books ever published. Aside the fundamental question, whether companies should be allowed doing this, the main controversy is around how to compensate authors and publishers of books that are out of stock and of orphan works (see “Google vs. Copyright Collectives“). On the other hand, the book as a medium itself may be changed by e-book reader such as Sony’s “Daily Edition” or Amazon’s “Kindle” (see “Sony’s E-Reader vs. Kindle“). Both allow direct wireless download of books directly to the reader via mobile phone networks. The latter raises a lot of controversy because of its restrictive digital rights management (“Kindle Controvery Continued: ‘Exit’ and ‘Voice’“) and Amazon’s ability to delete books from the reader even after their purchase (see NYT).

In spite of their common field of digital books and publishing, these two controversies evolved relatively independent from one another until very recently Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft formed the “Open Book Alliance” (see CNET) to counter Google Books. Googles rejoinder was an alliance with Sony (see CBC). This merger of conflicts will, I predict, alter the dynamics in both controversies. Read the rest of this entry »

In the realm of transnational copyright regulation several struggles are fought in parallel: Stylized and simplified, these are Free/Open Source Software movement vs. the proprietary software industry, the free culture movement around Creative Commons vs. the established music and film industry, and, of course, there is the industry-spanning battle against “pirates”, sometimes even literally and in court (see Wikipedia on “The Pirate Bay trial”). For a long time the publishing industry in general and the field of scientific publishing in particular  seemed to be the only copyright field without open and severe conflict. While the former prevents both piracy and growth of the e-book market with strict digital rights management (see “The Kindle Controversy: No Right to be a Reader?”), in the latter Open Access initiatives for free and open availability of scientific publications – for example by the European Research Council (PDF-statement) or by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (English Version of its founding document), which includes the Max Planck Society and the German Research Foundation (DFG) – did not raise substantial public opposition.

At least for Germany, this description is yesterday’s news. A series of articles in German newspapers during the last weeks criticizing “expropriation” of authors by a sinister coalition of “Open Access” zealots and Google culminated in a petition called “Heidelberger Appell” (English Version). This petition was not only signed by numerous renowned researchers, publishers and authors but also inspired an immediate thunderstorm of reactions including a joint statement by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (for an extensive list of reactions in German see infobib.de; a concise overview of the genesis of the whole uproar is provided by Matthias Spielkamp at perlentaucher, quite readable in Google Englisch – now available in English at signandsight.com).

Without reproducing these extensive discussions here, I would like to mention just three reasons why I think the “Heidelberger Appell” misses the point: Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
February 2017
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