Amazingly Compilcated Viewability Restrictions

One hesitates to recommend a 50 minute podcast. But this chat at Talis’s The Library 2.0 Gang had some interesting comments. The focus of the discussion was on the recently release Google Book Search Viewability API, and there seemed to be fairly general agreement that it was a step in the right direction but not yet enough.

Google needs to loosen up a bit and open up some more to enable some really interesting literary mashups to take hold. There were some particularly interesting contributions from Frances Haugen, a Google Book Search Product Manager. She spoke passionately and idealistically about the aims of the Google Book Search project. She agreed that an API which allowed some server-side interactions would be a good idea. But in passing she noted that there were legal issues and limitations. I was particularly struck by her comment that the Google rules on access limitations on international viewability are ‘amazingly complicated’.

Google’s lawyers are being strict on the extent to which works which may not be public domain in other countries can be accessed/viewed outside the US (but the majority almost certainly are in most places). It is not surprising that such a set of house rules limits the extent to which a useful API can be defined. The problem is not so much copyright, as the differing terms of copyrights in different jurisdictions and the penumbra of uncertainty about who has what.

Google Book Search will work better for Google if they can outsource the business of establishing who has clear title in a text and where. That could mean negotiating with publishers before digitising the text. It may come to that, and Google Book Search will be more comprehensive and more accessible when it does so.

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