Special Report: The Potential Consequences of Google’s Electronic Book Initiative01/06/2010 by Bruce Gain for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.Google’s ambitious plans to make published books available for download on most internet-connected electronic devices by leveraging its position as the world’s largest search engine could have far-reaching repercussions on electronic publishing and book file-sharing in the near future.The stated goal of Google’s electronic book programme is to allow authors and publishers to send books for scanning or in .pdf electronic file formats that Google will include in an online store. The books will be accessible through search results and will be available for direct purchase. Once paid for, users will be able to view the books with any device that has Web access (the exact mechanics of how Google will process payments and authors’ royalties have yet to be finalised).“Our vision for [electronic books] is that you should be able to buy and access electronic books on any Web-enabled device – whether it’s a PC, a smart phone, a netbook, or a dedicated reading device,” said Santiago de la Mora, director of print content partnerships for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Google. “This is about accessibility and not a specific piece of hardware.”IP ProtectionOn the surface, Google’s electronic book programme could represent a source of potential worry for authors and publishers considering the ease with which full content of books will be accessed. With Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and more recently, Apple’s iPad, books downloaded on those devices are not compatible with other media and pose limited concerns about massive-scale copying without compensation for authors and publishers in the immediate future.However, Google’s entry into the electronic book business creates a new dynamic in that the world’s largest search engine will soon make books available to anyone for download by merely Googling a name or subject and clicking on the title to download. Moreover, the need to purchase a separate electronic device to access the content is eliminated.Despite DRM restrictions and technologies that prevent copying that Google will have in place, increased access to the content of published books could lead to more uploads of published books to Bit Torrent file-sharing sites. “As long as Bit Torrent’s file-sharing sites exists, all it takes is for one person to scrape your content and it is gone, no matter how much you have locked it down,” said Bill Pollock, founder of book publishing company No Starch Press.However, putting more books online is great for publicity purposes, Pollock said. “What putting stuff online does is that it enables more people to sample products and say ‘this really is good.’ The challenge we have as a publisher is increasing visibility, and by increasing the samplings, I believe we increase the visibility.” Pollock said. “If I have million people see [a book] and 10 percent don’t want to pay for it, then I have lost 100,000 but have gained 900,000. I don’t think the percentages will change and you are not going to lose the moral bent of people who recognise that you are supposed to pay for certain things.”However, increased file sharing is not the only potential consequence of Google’s electronic book programme. There are also implications relating to Google’s position as the predominant search engine player and how its position as the first contact many readers will have when looking for books could potentially affect book publishers’ distribution channels. Indeed, the new dynamics of electronic book publishing is something to which policy and laws must adapt, said Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe.Google, for example, has already generated significant controversy with its Google Book Search (IPW, Copyright, 18 September 2009), which is under fire from government entities and groups in the United States and in Europe and is still facing opposition in a US federal court.At issue is an agreement completed in 2008 to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers that claimed Google Book Search, which represents the world’s most ambitious book-scanning project to date, violated copyright laws and other related protections. The court in that case has yet to make a decision about whether it will approve or reject the settlement.“With Google’s [book scanning project], Google has concentrated a lot of out-of-copyright books in one big publisher [umbrella], which essentially is Google itself,” Gerloff said. “So other companies [should] just as easily get into the market even if they don’t have the same resources that Google has.”With Google’s book selling venture, which is already in place, Pollock said that Starch Books was not happy with the royalty scheme.“I think it works more for Google than it does for the publisher. There is no direct revenue from that, only cents on the dollar,” Pollock said. “Google wants as much content as it can get and it wants to be the search portal for everything and they will also make sure that they are making money off of it because they are increasing their advertising revenues. But if I am only making a couple of bucks [per book] from that, then I want to look at more ways to get my content out there.”But while Google’s electronic books could pose business challenges for publishers and book distributors and some policy concerns, the business model has yet to necessarily pose legal considerations. Already, for example, companies like Fictionwise allow users to purchase and download full texts of books to most Web-connected consumer devices.“[Google electronic books] is mostly a publishing/business model issue, not a legal one,” said Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a California-based digital consumer rights group.Really Open?Google says its electronic book programme takes a more open-platform approach compared to Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad from which downloaded books cannot be shared with other devices once they are downloaded.Offering unfettered access over the internet of book copies users have purchased is part of what Google says is its “open” philosophy that applies to all of its offerings. “Google has a general bias towards openness and towards a cloud computing model,” de la Mora said. “We think you should be able to access your documents, emails, and eventually your books in a device-independent way.”Still, the contention that Google’s electronic books initiative represents a more open model than Apple’s approach, for example, is debatable, said Leander Kahney, editor of Cultofmac.com and author of “Inside Steve’s Brain.”“Apple uses DRM – but Google [will] also do so,” Kahney said.It is also possible that Apple will eventually unlock book files by making it possible for downloaded book files to be distributed from the iPad without DRM restrictions, similar to how iPod music files are now.“Apple is using the ePub standard but wrapping its ebooks in its fairplay DRM, which restricts them to the iBook app on iPad and iPhone,” Kahney said. “I imagine Apple is doing this to woo publishers, just as it used DRM in the early days of iTunes. Publishers have got to be nervous that their books will be easily ripped off if they release them in an unprotected format, and just as Apple dropped DRM for music once the market had matured, I expect it will do the same with books.”Regardless, using DRM as a means to control media file sharing runs counter to what should be fair use policies, Gerloff said. “If we are going to put books on all sorts of electronic devices,” he said, “then the formats should be free of DRM and should follow open standards so that users can switch devices and take their library.”Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedBruce Gain may be reached at email@example.com."Special Report: The Potential Consequences of Google’s Electronic Book Initiative" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.