Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Book search spurs legal fight



This page probably should have gone on my main blog, but there is a lot else there right now, and although this is mainly about copyright, it certainly also touches corporate branding, which is the heart of trademark law.

Alan Sipress has an article "Microsoft Attacks Google Over Book Search," in the March 7, 2007 The Washington Post, Business Section, p D1, at this link.

Google (which owns the operation that supports blogger and adsense, so I am going to simply be neutral here and try to stick to reportable facts) has been growing beyond its image as a fun-loving search engine company to an operation that can compete with Microsoft and Apple in providing tools for business productivity and even facilities to media or motion picture companies to distribute video. In that sense, the psychological meaning attached to its "brand" may change.

The copyright dispute seems to come from the observation that Google takes the position that any material may be copied and cached unless the copyright owner deliberately, and on a case-by-case basis, opts out. I am not sure that is true. For example, cooperative publisher iUniverse offers its books to Google book search, but the terms in the publishing contract (starting at some date a few years ago) explicitly allow it to do that with electronic rights. (iUniverse does allow authors to opt out.)

There have been bitter battles in the writing (and sometimes filmmakinga and music community) about electronic republication. The National Writers Union has bitterly fought for specific royalties for electronic republication. (Generally, copyright law, as written, is much more protective of content owners when it comes to music and video than written word content, because of the way Fair Use is interpreted in our legal system). There has developed a cultural battle within the writers' community over free content. Some people who regularly get paid to write for others feel that free content and free electronic caching, book-searching and the like dilutes their ability to earn a living. Other writers have an "all or nothing" model and feel that free distribution by search engines helps them to become known.

Microsoft, to complicate the pot, has developed its own library of digitized books, and has established itself as a valid trade publisher ("trademark") in computer books, which are often leading texts in the industry.

Pictures: New United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA. Also, the Library of Congress (which houses the Copyright Office) in Washington DC.

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