European officials fear that if the Google project goes ahead in the US, a yawning transatlantic gap will open up in education and research.
“Oh my God! The Americans are about to create a private workaround of the enormous mess that we regulators have made of national copyright policy! They will fix the unholy legal screwups that leave most of the books of 20th century culture unavailable, yet still under copyright! They will gain access to their cultural heritage — giving them a huge competitive advantage in education. This MUST BE STOPPED!! No one can be allowed to fix this for any other country because then we would be left alone stewing in our own intellectual property stupidity! We must forbid their progress in order to protect our ignorance.”
But wait, there’s more. If anyone does do it, it must be the state! (Which so far has failed completely to provide legal access to orphan works or commercially unavailable works, works that are unavailable because of… wait for it, wait for it, the state locking up our cultural heritage unnecessarily)
Google maintains it is engaged in the huge project for the public good. Others say such public good should be left to the public sphere.
[Actually, Google says it is doing it to make money, but that it will produce an enormous public good, something that makes the company very happy.] But look at the phrase in bold. Only the state may fix the problems the state has created. And if Europe can’t fix those problems for itself, everyone else should be forbidden from doing so as well. QED. Now, to the credit of the EU, the article suggests that the EU will pursue this not only by trying to ban what Google wants to do, something France and Germany have already attempted, but by “copyright reform and public-private partnerships as a means to boost digitisation of books.” Great. But how about treating the Google Books project as a demonstration of an entirely unnecessary problem created by states — particularly including European and American copyright policy makers. If it weren’t for the ridiculous copyright extensions, abolition of formalities and ending of renewable terms, we wouldn’t have the problem of the 20th century black hole. Now a company manages to craft a settlement that will work around this, restoring, at least for some citizens of the world, access to a heritage that they never should have lost — and to do so in a way that pays authors and publishers where they can be found. Europe’s answer? This must be forbidden! Stop the settlement! Make sure no European books get freed! Make European participation only on an “opt in” basis, so NO orphan works — by definition — can be included, since they have no one to opt in for them. Complain that a private company is involved!! Prevent this settlement now to stop the US getting a lead, and maybe one day we’ll fix the problems that we the regulators created in the first place! (Yeah, right.)
Brilliant. You couldn’t make this stuff up.