Former Congressmen Pat Schroeder and Bob Barr have written a column in the Washington Times decrying Google's new Google Print service that allows users to search through the full text of books, many of which are still under copyright protection. Setting aside the gross unfairness of continual copyright term extensions (which now protect a work for 70 years after the creator's death), the principle analogy used in this article to criticize Google is pretty weak.

Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt has argued the "fair use" provision in copyright law allows Google to scan copyrighted books and put them on their Web site without seeking permission. He compares this to someone at home taping a television show and watching it later. Taped TV show are watched in millions of households every night and is quite legal; rebroadcasting that show to make a buck is not.

So would Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Barr feel more comfortable if Google Print were only available to Google shareholders? If that were the case, then no "rebroadcast" would be occuring, since the material would only be being used by those who made the copies.

The basic problem here is that, as rich as some people have gotten by selling intellectual property, it seems inevitable that technology will eventually make it impossible to protect intangible forms of ideas. I'm not sure whether this change will good or bad, but it's really only a side effect of technological advancement that in many other ways brings about unambiguous good, and I don't think there's any going back. The software and music industries are dealing with it, the movie industry is starting to deal with it, magazines and newspapers are adapting to survive in the new environment, and there's no reason to expect the publishing industry to be exempt.



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