IN 2002, Google began to drink the milkshakes of the book world.
Back then, according to the company’s official history, it began a “secret ‘books’ project.” Today, that project is known as Google Book Search and, aided by a recent class-action settlement, it promises to transform the way information is collected: who controls the most books; who gets access to those books; how access will be sold and attained. There will be blood, in other words.
The article lays out the fears of some that Google is going to create some sort of evil book monopoly by scanning and indexing the collection of America’s (and maybe the world’s) libraries:
Robert Darnton, the head of the Harvard library system, writes about the Google class-action agreement with the passion of a Progressive Era muckraker.
“Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly — a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information,” Mr. Darnton writes. “Google has no serious competitors.”
He adds, “Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers.”
While the article does go on offer a number of solid counter-arguments, it is disturbing that the lead voice is that of, well, a scared Luddite.
Simply because Google is the only company willing and/or able to take on such a massive program is no reason to fear the amazing potential the program will have. To be able to search and access the collections of any library from anywhere in the world is just not a bad thing. In fact, it is a glorious thing to spread information and knowledge.
Will Google suddenly control all the information in the world by scanning and indexing it? I don’t see that happening. It certainly won’t be harder to access material via Google than it would be to walk in off the street to Harvard’s library and borrow whatever you want. Try that one and see how far you get.
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