Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gauging Google's Grip

Laura Quilter and Siva have brought some clarity to my thinking with posts concerning the Google Print inititative. Laura rightly demonstrates that my last post fails to clearly explain what I mean by "handing over ... control" to the for-profit Google corporation. Laura states -
"The impulses guiding this post are clearly pro-public access and use, and pro-library, and I wholeheartedly support that. But the issue is couched as “handing over … control” of this information to a corporation. “[G]rant[ing] the right to create such a database.” Making a “choice” of entities to “manage and control” that database.

No, no, no.

The point of people’s support for Google Print is not that we support Google, love Google, or want Google to control our access to information. The point is that Google, and any other entity who wants to do it, should be able to add value to information. Google should not be THE ONE; Google should be ONE OF MANY. Picking and choosing a single entity presupposes that the information is already controlled, and this new use, this new added value, is to be carefully metered as a scarce resource."

At this point, we're not sure if the information is "already controlled" - I suppose that's what the lawsuit will determine. However, this "new added value" is, as Siva points out, under latent patent control. If Google has their way, the other "of many" services will be forced to the sidelines due to mediocre user interfaces/database management crippled by patent law. Of what use will the freedom to exercise "fair use" in the creation of an electronic database be if the deliverance of that database is controlled by software idea patents? Thanks to Laura as she has correctly pointed out that I am conflating issues here - my question is erroneous. Worry over copyright and patents governing the technology Google uses is an important, but separate issue. I suppose this is why - at this point - I am very much in favor of Google winning a lawsuit, but not in favor of letting them off completely unregulated. At this point, a regulation that the technology used by Google be patent-free and governed by a F/OSS license would be an important start. This would go a long way regarding fair competition and privacy for those searching books for snippets of text. But sadly, the public is not represented in the upcoming case. The arguments being made are intended simply to either score a win for Google or money for the publishers.

We then have possible future issues. For now, the issue may only revolve around the notion of a searchable database. But it is quite plausible that a deal will eventually be struck allowing Google to sell complete digital copies of the scanned works. Who will be on the public's side when Google agrees to such a venture whilst happily implementing the dubious practice of DRM on our "trusted computing" machines?


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