Google has been much in the news lately—and not in a good way.
Google’s ambitions—particularly in the book field, where it recently settled a lawsuit by publishers over its plans to scan every out-of-print book ever written so as to be searchable—have taken on Microsoftian overtones in the minds of authors, publishers and, now, Government lawyers.
This is how the Wall Street Journal reported developments last week:
U.S. Steps Up Probe of Google Book Deal
By Elizabeth Williamson, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, and Jessica E. Vascellaro
The Justice Department has sent formal demands to Google Inc. and publishers for information about a deal that would allow the search giant to make millions of books available online, publishing company executives and people briefed on the matter said Tuesday.
The civil investigative demands, or CIDs, are the strongest sign yet that the Justice Department may seek to block or force a renegotiation of the settlement, which was struck last year and has not yet been approved in court….
Google began scanning books in 2004 so the text could be searched online, and publishers and authors sued to stop the effort in 2005, alleging it violated copyright laws. Google settled the dispute last year, agreeing to pay $125 million to settle claims, cover legal fees and establish a registry for publishers or authors to get paid when their titles are used online….
The settlement has drawn criticism from a variety of industry executives who say it will give Google broad copyright immunity and make it difficult for competitors to enter the market for digital titles. Google, the Authors Guild and major publishing companies have held the agreement up as a landmark case that will expand digital access to books.
—The Wall Street Journal, 06/10/09
As a former Google shareholder and an author who could not have written a book without using Google as the primary research and organizational tool (it took about a year to write “Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha,” including research, writing, re-writing and more re-writing, plus everything else that goes with publishing a book the old-fashioned way), I admit to a bias in Google’s favor.
But I strongly suspect the Google book-scanning deal will probably help authors in ways they can’t currently imagine.
For starters, it will put content in front of people who otherwise would never know that content existed. Just consider one such book, “A History of the Yankee Division,” a 283 page history of the 26th Division of the 101st Infantry in World War One, recently made available thanks to Google.
The book, which was published in 1919, is long since out of print and concerns a relatively obscure matter: the start-to-finish account, from formation to armistice, of what was known as the “Yankee Division,” so-called because it was comprised of New England soldiers.
But that division included my grandfather.
Now, until last week, all I knew about my grandfather’s two war experiences was that he had seen trench warfare in France during the First World War, and had traveled extensively through China as a military advisor to the government in its efforts to stave off the Japanese during the Second World War.
I understood that his time in France had involved real combat. (“Oh, you’d be standing in formation and the man next to you would get a bullet right here,” he once told me, pointing to his forehead. “That was every day stuff, that was.”) And I also knew he had a small, velvet-lined box of decorations which he didn’t talk about, even when pressed. “You wave a gun and some Germans surrender,” he’d say, “and they give you a medal.”
But that was about it.
And then Google scanned “A History of the Yankee Division” from the University of Michigan library, and made the book available to the world.
And now I know where my grandfather trained, where he landed in France, and where he marched, rested and fought. I know the ground he occupied on the day of the armistice, and even name of the ship that took him home.
Also, I also learned something about one of those medals he never talked much about :
First Lieutenant George L. Goodridge of the 101st Infantry, on November 8, with about thirty men, secured a footing in an advanced enemy trench. The attacking battalion met with stubborn resistance…. Goodridge and his men held on until relieved November 11. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.
What, exactly, causes a soldier to merit a “Distinguished Service Cross”? You can find that thanks to Google, too. According to Army regulations:
The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades. So, thank you, Google.
And let’s hope the so-called Justice Department doesn’t kill a great thing before everyone else can benefit, too.
Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up
© 2009 NotMakingThisUp, LLC
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