Online Book

In: Other Topics

Submitted By vincentverbaeys
Words 3159
Pages 13
September 22, 2005

Just one generation ago, the movie studios were up in arms about a new technology known as the video-cassette recorder. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, testified to Congress in 1982 that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." A movie studio sued Sony for manufacturing and selling the Betamax, the first widely marketed VCR. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision finally made it clear that using a VCR to tape TV shows was fair use. The decision not only legitimized the new consumer technology, and all the benefits it brought to the public, but also ended up helping those same movie studios earn billions of dollars from the home video market that the VCR enabled.

It's worth remembering that case when thinking about the lawsuit filed yesterday against Google by the Author's Guild, for digitizing copyrighted books from libraries and making them searchable online. (Although the books are searchable, no more than a handful of sentence-sized snippets can be read online, unless the book is in the public domain or the publishers give permission for more to be viewable.)

Once again, the issue boils down to fair use in a new application that could greatly benefit the public and bring new revenues and other benefits to copyright holders. While this particular issue has not yet been decided in court, and various legal scholars have taken both sides of the issue, Google has what looks like a good case for fair use both for the service itself and for the digitization necessary to provide it. In the actual service, the snippets provided to readers are very small, cannot reasonably substitute for access to the entire work, and will probably have a net-positive effect for the market for the work. The…...

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