Google’s Copyright War and Open Access

In Thursday’s Guardian, Seth Finkelstein writes about “Google’s copyright war will have open access advocates up in arms.”  

Mr. Finkelstein’s article summarizes the dispute, quotes a number of folks but the final paragraph really caught my attention:

Amid all the reactions, an overall lesson should be how little can be determined by legalism, and how much remains unsettled as new technology causes shifts in markets and power.  There’s some value in enemy-of-my-enemy opposition, where the interests of an advertising near-monopoly are a counterweight to a content cartel. But battles between behemoth businesses should not be mistaken for friendship to libraries, authors or public interest.

Four scholars look at Google

Today’s Financial Times includes a review essay by James Harkin, “Net prophets – Incorporated just 10 years ago, Google predicts and shapes our view of the world.”  The essay is a review of these three books:

Planet Google: How One Company is Transforming Our Lives
By Randall Stross
Atlantic Books

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View of Europe
By Jean-Noel Jeanneney
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
University of Chicago Press

Search Engine Society
By Alexander Halavais
Polity Press

And the author of the piece is James Harkin and his book Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How We Live and Who We Are will be published in February by Little, Brown in the UK and by Knopf in Canada.

In the piece, Harkin writes,

Google is now 10 years old, and in that decade it has become one of the world’s most recognisable brands. There’s no doubt that Google is everywhere in our lives. But how exactly has Google changed us, and what lessons can we really draw from its success? Three recent books – one by a professor of business, one by a cultural historian and one by a technology academic – all attempt to answer that question in different ways.

and concludes:

Jeanneney is right to insist that any culture needs to organise its information to reflect its priorities, and that it’s not enough to leave this to an automatic device. The classification system of the traditional library, he reminds us, is evident in books’ arrangement on the shelves, which encourages readers to browse those books in certain ways. It is possible that our facility with search technology will encourage new, looser ways of categorising books which encourage us to take our own path through libraries. It will not, however, be enough to leave readers to rely on pointers from their anonymous online peers. For institutions, the trick will be to adapting to changed cultural sensibilities – our determination to forge our own path through information and make our own associations between things – without surrendering ourselves entirely to Google’s algorithm.

In September last year, Google announced that it had digitised and indexed about a million of the world’s books – not bad, but well short of its target. A couple of years before that, according to Stross, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt was asked how long it might take for Google to organise all the world’s information. “Current estimate,” he replied, “300 years.” Only a company with Google’s Promethean ambitions could think with such extravagant time-horizons. With 300 years’ notice to organise our response, we can’t say that we haven�t been warned.

The Google Dilemma

“The Google Dilemma”

New York Law School Law Review, Forthcoming
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08/09#2

Web search is critical to our ability to use the Internet. Whoever controls search engines has enormous influence on all of us; whoever controls the search engines, perhaps, controls the Internet itself. This short essay (based on talks given in January and April 2008 ) uses the stories of five famous search queries to illustrate the conflicts over search and the enormous power Google wields in choosing whose voices are heard on the Internet.


Source: LSN Young Scholars Law APS Vol. 5 No. 36,  08/04/2008


Information Policy for the Library of Babel

Yesterday’s mail brought along Vol 3, No. 1 of the Journal of Business & Technology Law.  This issue contains a Google symposium, “Google: An Intersection of Business and Technology,” which includes these articles:

Google and Fair Use, Jonathan Band

Information Policy for the Library of Babel, James Grimmelmann

The Google IPO, Matthias Hild

Asterisk Revisited: Debating a Right of Reply on Search Results, Frank Pasquale

From Making Money without Doing Evil to Doing Good without Handouts: The Experiment in Philanthropy, Shruti Rana

Google Benefits or Google’s Benefit?, Susan J. Stabile

Privacy on Planet Google: Using the Theory of “Contextual Integrity” to Clarify the Privacy Threats of Google’s Quest for the Perfect Search Engine, Michael Zimmer

Clearly an issue for us to take with us on our summer vacations for beach or pool-side reading!

James Grimmelmann’s article, published under a Creative Commons license, sets “out a few principles of sensible information policy for the Library of Babel.”  Here are the article’s concluding principles:


As it announces in its very first sentence, The Library of Babel is an allegory for the universe. This essay has also treated it as an allegory–and an anachronistic and transparent one at that. For “Library of Babel,” read “Internet.” For “book,” read “Web site.” And for “Book-Man,” read “search engine.” It’s almost a cliche to assert that the Internet is like a vast library, that it causes problems of information overload, or that it contains both treasures and junk in vast quantities. Looking at it through the lens of Borges’s Library amplifies these themes to their utter limit, and thus makes them fresh again. The ten principles set forth above are completely serious. Here they are again, using the proper terminology:

1. The public interest means readers’ interest.

2. Infrastructure matters.

3. Censorship is usually irrelevant.

4. The problem is access, not creation.

5. The Internet is nearly, but not completely useless.

6. Search engines make the Internet useful.

7. An impostor could not pretend to have a good search engine.

8. Search engines could keep secrets from us and we’d never know.

9. Search engines can play favorites.

10. The more search engines the better.

The Library of Babel provides an exhilarating and frightening metaphor for the Internet. Exhilarating because it reminds us that we are all now “the possessors of an intact and secret treasure” of knowledge beyond compare. Frightening because it reminds us that that knowledge is shut away in a “feverish [place], whose random volumes constantly threaten to transmogrify into others, so that they affirm all things, deny all things, and confound and confuse all things, like some mad and hallucinating deity.” Only the god-like Book-Man, whose knowledge of the Library is an “honor and wisdom and joy,” can make sense of it for us. In the Library of Babel, the Book-Man is but a “superstition,” but on the Internet, his name is Google.

Associate Professor of Law, New York Law School. As of January 1, 2009, this Article is available for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States license,

Harvard’s law library director (again) in the news

From the Boston Globe:  “Stopping Google – With one company now the world’s chief gateway to information, some critics are hatching ways to fight its influence,” by By Drake Bennett (June 22, 2008).

Google may be widely admired for its technical wizardry and its quick, accurate search engine, but one of the company’s most impressive accomplishments has been its ability to grow as powerful as it is while still remaining, in the minds of most Americans, fundamentally likable. . . And even privacy protections, points out John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, can have their costs, making search engines themselves less efficient and making it harder to gather information about criminals and terrorists.


Source:  HLS’s News@Law — Week of June 23, 2008

What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines

This blogging is fun.  One aspect I enjoy is reading the search terms that people used to find our content.  Some recent search terms were: international legal research, atms for books, “advanced legal research” ideas,, espresso book machine, greenversations, detroit mercy law school, bloomberg law citator, “bloomberg law citator,” and google books.  But I cannot tell who out there used these search phrases.  But Google knows, and that raises concerns, as this working paper indicates.

What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines

OMER TENE, College of Management – School of Law, Israel

Search engines are the most important phenomenon on the Internet today and Google is the gold standard of search. Google evokes ambivalent feelings. It is adored for its ingenuity, simple, modest-looking interface and superb services offered at no (evident) cost. Yet increasingly, it is feared by privacy advocates who view it as a private sector big brother posing perhaps the biggest privacy problem of all times. Google is an informational gatekeeper harboring previously unimaginable riches of personal data. Billions of search queries stream across Google’s servers each month, the aggregate thoughtstream of humankind, online. Google compiles individual search logs, containing information about users’ fears and expectations, interests and passions, and ripe with information that is financial, medical, sexual, political, in short – personal in nature. How did Google evolve from being a benevolent giant seeking to do no evil into a privacy menace reviled by human rights advocates worldwide? Are the fears of Google’s omniscient presence justified or overstated? What personal data should Google be allowed to retain and for how long? What rules should govern access to Google’s database? What are the legal protections currently in place and are they sufficient to quell the emerging privacy crisis? These are the main issues addressed in this article.


Source: LSN Information Privacy Law Vol. 1 No. 2,  06/10/2008

“Jet Ski research” – Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

Our alumnus Matt Asay has a post on The Open Road about a must-read cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” by Nicholas Carr.

From The Atlantic article:

. . .

My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
 . . .
 . . . a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it.

The authors of the study report:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.
. . .

 The article has worried and inspired Matt thusly:

Which is why I’m returning to my books. I read a fair amount–the classics, mostly–but generally only when I’m traveling. As Carr points out, I, too, have difficulty reading when my computer beckons with instant gratification. I read each night to my kids before they go to bed, but Carr’s article has me thinking that I need to return to doing the same.

Over the weekend, the Asays determined that we’re going to have “reading time” each night for an hour before bed. Everyone (except my 5- and 3-year-old) will read for an hour. My kids were already doing this. The change is for me and for my wife. I need to exercise my brain to think again, and not merely process.

After you’ve finished the article, you might want to add Carr’s recent book to your summer reading list:


Author: Carr, Nicholas G., 1959-
Title: The big switch : rewiring the world, from Edison to Google / Nicholas Carr.
      Portion of title: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google
               Edition: 1st ed.
               Imprint: New York : W. W. Norton & Co., c2008.
  Physical Description: vii, 278 p. ; 25 cm.
                 Notes: Includes bibliographical references (p. 235-260) and
Contents: Burden’s wheel — The inventor and his clerk — Digital millwork — Goodbye, Mr. Gates — The White City — World Wide Computer — From the many to the few — The great unbundling — Fighting the net — A spider’s web — iGod — Flame and filament.
          Subject (LC): Computers and civilization.
          Subject (LC): Information technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technological innovations.
          Subject (LC): Internet.
                  ISBN: 9780393062281 (hardcover) : $25.95
                  ISBN: 0393062287 (hardcover) : $25.95

Just Google It First

It’s a variation on our class theme of “secondary first!”  But a Wall Street Journal Law Blog posting, “Advice from the Corner Office: Use Google; Avoid Grammar Gaffes,” offers some key tips from law firm partner Drew Barry and includes this good research advice:

Get Yourself Smart on a Subject, Fast: When they get assignments, he says, self starters “contextualize” the issue by “Googling stuff for fifteen minutes.” Lexis and Westlaw, he says, are fine for focusing on a point of law. But the peripheral vision provided by a Web search is also invaluable. It can yield relevant law journal articles, blog posts, plaintiffs’ lawyers sites, law-firm newsletters and the like.

In a way, he says, see-what-I’ll-find Internet research is akin to the old hard-cover legal research methods which, he says, are more than powerful electronic search engines “give a feel for the evolution of the common law.”


A popular legal research book here at Stanford is Just Research by Laurel Currie Oates and Anne Enquist; it includes many tips on ways to find good legal overviews using Google.

For Whom Does the Google Bell Toll? Not libraries

I ran across an interesting article by way of a tangentially related Google search today.  The June 12, 2008 issue of The New York Review of Books includes the following item, “The Library in the New Age,” a lengthy discussion of changes in information technology (from the dawn of the written word through Internet search engines), which culminates in an eight-point discussion of how Google Book Search will make physical libraries “more important than ever.”  Written by Robert Darnton, it’s an interesting addition to the scholarship of the digital age.