“This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. “It’s not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied.”
Their argument is a bit disengenuous. I have two big problems with the quote. One, it makes it seem like the authors are the copyright holders, which in many cases is just not true. You can’t automatically equate authors with copyright holders. Two, and more importantly, it is not up to the authors or copyright holders to decide whether and how their works are copied in all cases. That’s why we have copyright exemptions. That’s why we say some uses are fair or protected no matter what the copyright holder says. Google doesn’t have to listen to the publishers, although there are all sorts of reasons (like avoiding a lawsuit) to do so. They are also providing an opt out, which might help their fair use argument in some ways. At any rate, although I do have problems with Google’s “being a library,” I do ultimately think that they have a decent fair use case.
Historically, the primary purpose of US copyright law was not solely to protect the authors or copyright holders. Copyright law is the means to give authors and creators incentive to create- but the point is to benefit the public. Protecting the authors is important because the protection provides that incentive to create. I think that copyright law, with all of its recent changes, hasn’t benefitted authors/creators as much as it should have- it tends to benefit publishers and distributors over authors. And at some point the protection given to the copyright holders becomes so strong that the detriment to the public outweighs any incentive it may provide- like the copyright term extensions. Authors do need protection. We have to keep that in mind. But we also must think of the public interest in these types of cases. So, here are the questions: How would the Google Print project help or hurt the public? How would the Google Print project help or hurt copyright holders? How would the Google Print project help or hurt authors?