New York Times: Sergey Brin Offers His Opinions On Google Book Settlement

Sergey Brin, co-founder and technology president of Google has expressed his opinions and support for what Google is trying to achieve with the Google Book Settlement in an article for yesterday’s New York Times entitled, A Library to Last Forever. It is a frank and reasoned opinion few–bar the most partisan–could find fault with. Brin’s core argument is for the preservation of artistic, literary, historical and academic material–a laudable sentiment in itself. Only yesterday, we looked at the work being carried out by the Cambridge University Press to scan and digitize texts which might one day be lost forever without the modern embrace of technology.
Sergey Brin, in his article, discusses the advent of the electric car and that the first true advocate (the Electric World journal) of this environmentally friendly form of transport came at a time of great mechanical advances and when words like ozone did not exist and the teeth of the handsaw had yet to make its first real cut in the great forests of the world. The sentiment and honesty is lavish in Brin’s article. I do not actually genuinely believe Brin or Google’s original motivation began as an outward will to consume and possess copyrighted material already nailed to the mast or signed by its author in their own blood. Where Google have really erred in all this, is to have assumed a role in the new world of digital publishing and record no one afforded them the right or throne. As Brin rightly points out in his article in the New York Times:

“Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.”

Therein lies the key to all this. It is not the job nor the responsibility of Google to chronicle, scan and protect the family jewels. It is the job of our governments, libraries and universities to do this, and certainly, even if it means with the help of Google’s technology and database. Then, so be it. But for those who lauded and admired the ingenuity and power of the Google beast in our midst five years ago, to be among the activists to call today for the beast to be shot between the eyes is–frankly–a little galling. It is time for us all to reflect.
There has been an attitude in the publishing industry for some years that they can park their bicycle at the lamppost and expect it still to be there when they return. That attitude is borne out of a belief that publishing is old world and requires an innate skill unwilling to compromise with anything new or that suggests paper books are merely a format of a greater content and opportunity. I am less inclined to think publishers, by their objection to the Google agreement, are as hole-heartedly worried by the challenge to publishing rights as they are to being reminded by Google that they have left the steering wheel unmanned for quite some time. Whatever opinion you hold or whatever you believe about all this–someone left the bull in the china shop and something was bound to get broken.

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