Today, Judge Denny Chin ruled against Google‘s plans to make available some 12 million books in a digital library that could be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. “While the digitisation of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,” Chin wrote in his decision, Google “simply go[es] too far, [...] giv[ing] Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission.”
More depressing, however, was the fact that the judge rejected the agreement Google reached with the plaintiffs allowing them to continue the digitization and redistribution of books in exchange for an cool $125 million annually. Sounds like a fair deal. But the judge said ‘No’ citing that the ownership (copyrights) of many of the works scanned by Google could not be established.
If you didn’t catch that, I’m going to repeat it, because it is that awful: Since no one is sure who owns the copyright of a particular piece of work, no one is allowed to touch it. What!? Why? That’s like saying you can’t pick up a penny (or a dollar bill) from the street because you can’t properly trace its origins. That. does. not. make. any. sense.
And the judge was able to make this decision so easily because it is not he that will ultimately bear this cost. It’s the hundreds of millions of people who will lack access to tens of millions of books and the vast catalog of information associated with it. This judge’s decision doesn’t just minutely hurt every single human being, it damages the human condition.
What reason could their possibly be to prevent the access to free and open exchange of information? Is the world not better with the internet, with Wikipedia, with knowledge? Cloistering information such that it is not allowed into the hands of others has never been the path of progress and this will be no exception.
It is better to light the world one booklight at a time than to see it cast in darkness as the next chapter of humanity is written.