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Project Ocean Ruffles Publishers’ Feathers

by David Sturtz

The New York Times, BBC News, Wired, and Boing Boing report that Google has put portions of its Google Print Library Project (formerly codenamed Project Ocean) on hold until November.

A post on Google’s official blog explains that the company is trying to be consistent in their policies towards indexing web and print content. On the web it’s well established that anything on a public site is fair game for spiders and robots to index. There is an entire industry devoted to getting your site’s content indexed in the most thorough and profitable way, and also a standard system for turning indexers away.

Obviously then, this does not turn “every principle of copyright law on its ear” as the Association of American Publishers has stated. It is simply applying new technology to old technology in a way that is long overdue. Additionally they are concerned with the potential piracy of their materials. I can’t really see how Google’s project would increase piracy beyond what is already possible with a photocopier.

Google is creating a vastly more powerful version of the card catalog and saving the researcher the trouble of physically locating the book and combing through it for references to the topic of interest in order to decide whether the volume meets her needs. It’s the exact same process that happens in a physical library, but the potential for finding the nugget of information you seek is vastly increased.

If publishers wanted to put in the effort they would see this as a major opportunity to profit by providing full volumes available to be checked out in an electronic format similar to what is already being done by ebrary, Safari Books Online, or NetLibrary.

Safari in particular is an amazing resource for people in technical fields and is one of the few ebook libraries to be really end-user centric, rather than focusing solely on selling services to libraries and corporations. In order for Google Print and Google Scholar to gain steam, and for publishers to profit through them, more publishers need to embrace the end-user and provide a unified way for individuals to purchase or subscribe to their content. As iTunes has made abundantly clear, if you provide people with a simple way to legally purchase and use your media for a reasonable price they will.

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