A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Microsoft Lawyer Attacks Google in Speech to Associaton of American Publishers

Oh what fun.

Tom Rubin, Associate General Counsel for Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secrets at Microsoft, recently spoke to the Association of American Publishers (March 6, 2007).

His speech, “Searching for Principles: Online Services and Intellectual Property” , is a clear attack on Google Book Search and a blatant cuddling up to the AAP, who are suing Google for scanning copyright-protected books without first seeking the permission of the copyright holder.

The entire speech is available on the Microsoft site. Read the speech here.

To state my position: Google Book Search is not about stealing copyright.

It’s pitiful that Rubin would seek to benefit from publishers’ fears of the unknown in order to promote Microsoft’s own product, Live Book Search. You can just hear the faint peeps of “MSN”. The little whine of “remember me, play with me, search with me. MSN. MSN. MSN.”

MSN has very little share of the search audience, they are practically non-existent compared to Google and Yahoo.

But if Microsoft wants to increase it’s share of search traffic do they really think pointing fingers is the way to go? So what if Microsoft’s Live Book Search is better than Google Book Search in terms of their communications with publishers. If very few people use Microsoft search then where is the discovery mechanism for books? Isn’t that the promise search engines are making to publishers and authors? We’ll help readers discovered your books.

Tim O’Reilly has a great article about the negative reactions to the Microsoft attack on Google, and he’s articulated many of the reasons why Google is not out of line with the Book Search program.

Read what O’Reilly Radar has to say.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on the matter.

Microsoft’s Rubin says,

“I do think that three simple principles can help us make the right choices. The first principle is that new services that expand online access to content should be encouraged. The second principle is that those new services must respect the legitimate interests of copyright holders; put conversely, we must forcefully reject any business model that is based on the systematic infringement of copyrights. The third principle is that even as we follow the first two principles, we must all work together to find consumer-friendly and cost-effective solutions to our shared goal of expanding online access to copyrighted and public-domain works.”

1st Principle: “new services that expand online access to content should be encouraged ...” Only if they are Microsoft initiatives, right.

2nd Principle: “we must forcefully reject any business model that is based on the systematic infringement of copyrights.” I reject the fear mongering. Where is the infringement? The court hasn’t decided on this one, but I agree with Tim O’Reilly that if Google is wrong in making a copy of a book in order to create a search index, and that’s not considered fair use, “then the whole search engine economy comes tumbling down, since web search itself depends on the same fair use exemption.”

3rd Principle: “we must all work together to find consumer-friendly and cost-effective solutions to our shared goal of expanding online access to copyrighted and public-domain works.” Do publishers really want to expand online access of copyrighted materials? I think the ones suing Google are not interested in making their works discoverable online. But they should be. Publishers and record companies and any rights holders need to be better educated on what consumers are doing online, how readers want to discover titles, how readers want to screen information (you can filter what I see, but I do want to “look inside” before I buy online or go to the library to take out the book, or go to the bookstore to buy the book.)

Next rant.

Microsoft’s Rubin says, “In my view, Google has chosen the wrong path for the longer term, because it systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works. In doing so, it undermines critical incentives to create.”

Give me a break.

Google Book Search is offering publishers a way to monetize works that are collecting dust and sitting in obscurity in a library. An important avenue is the web. Here’s a scenario: “I’m looking for X. I Googled X. No results. It must not exist. Next thing. Off I go.” That’s consumer behaviour.

The counter argument is that not all books scanned are obscure. Many are new titles or are still protected under copyright. Great. Google is respecting that and only displaying a snippet of the book. A snippet relevant to my search inquiry.

Publishers already create and freely and widely distribute book descriptions, jacket copy, and author descriptions. Those bits of text get modified and posted on all sorts of retailer sites, reviewer sites, etc. Are publishers up in arms about their marketing copy? No. It’s marketing copy. They spent a lot of time writing a tailored bit of copy for one audience member. The perfect buyer of this book will love to know that it’s “a remarkable tale”, one of “strength and weakness”, set in “a land of complexities.”

Wouldn’t it be better to write copy tailored to every potential buyer? To give them a little excerpt to prove that this is the book for them?

That’s the value I see in Google Book Search (and Live Book Search, and any other search directory that wants to create an index of books and excerpts).

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