The decision by the Author' s Guild to sue Google over its Google Print initiative is obviously the story of the week. I' ve stayed quiet on this primarily because there have been some great postings (Lessig, von Lohmann, Band, Crawford, and Google' s own response among them) that say far more than I can about U.S. law. Their analysis, which focuses on U.S. fair use, provides a compelling argument that the Google plan is lawful given its social benefits, the minimal content being displayed by Google, the ability to opt-out, and the reality that there is little difference between search engine indexing of content found on websites and the scanning of content found in books.
Moreover, I' m saddened that there is a limited Canadian angle on this story. Canadians (whether publishers, authors or the general public) would obviously benefit from the existence of Google Print, however, our copyright law is a major impediment. The Supreme Court of Canada may want a broad interpretation for our fair dealing user right, but it is difficult to interpret it so broadly as to equal fair use. I further believe that there is currently a tremendous opportunity for Canada to create a national digital library, yet thus far there has been little indication that the government has any appetite for such an undertaking.
It was the University of Michigan' s defense of the Google Print program, however, that led me to post on the issue. Canadian libraries have not been entirely silent on copyright and access to knowledge issue (the CCH case is the most important copyright case of at least the past decade; last week I blogged about the Grand Bibliotheque in Montreal), yet they have not emerged as the force we desperately need.
Canadian political leaders offer virtually no vision of the transformative effect of new technologies on access to knowledge. Instead we get op-eds such as the one from Ministers Emerson and Frulla this past summer that acknowledges the strength of the U.S. fair use approach but talks blandly of more consultation and that "good public policy can only emerge from a full, open and constructive dialogue."
Compare those statements with those from the University of Michigan defending the Google Print project:
The Google library project will transform the way we do research and scholarship. For the first time, everyone will be able to search the written record of human knowledge. It also allows libraries to create a digital archive that preserves this material for all time. Only libraries are tasked by the public with the responsibility of archiving all the world's written works. No other entity can take on this responsibility.
This is a tremendously important public policy discussion. In the future, most research and learning is going to take place in a digital world. Material that does not exist in digital form will effectively disappear. We need to decide whether we are going to allow the development of new technology to be used as a tool to restrict the public's access to knowledge, or if we are going to ensure that people can find these works and that they will be preserved for future generations."
Canadian culture and knowledge needs Google Print and other similar initiatives. To get there, we need leaders and institutions with the courage and vision of the University of Michigan.