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Google and the Future of Books

The Internet is an information highway with Google as it’s leading man. Google has started to digitize books and has recently ended up in some copyright issues with major research libraries. Robert Darnton, the author of this article, brings up the issue of readily available online libraries and how to get them readily available while still giving the libraries the credit they need. Darnton, to find this solution, decides to go back in time to try and figure out this dilemma he says, “The only workable tactic may be vigilance: see as far ahead as you can; and while you keep your eye on the road, remember to look in the rearview mirror.?

Darnton divulges into the 18th century Enlightenment period and goes on to speak about the Republic of Letters. He goes on and on in the dense voice about Jefferson and Madison and a rift between Rousseau and Voltaire. His main point being, “The founding Fathers acknowledged authors’ rights to a fair return on their intellectual labor, but they put public welfare before profit.? To sum that up Robert is saying that the system has been cheating the artists since day one, that authors have always gotten the shtick when it comes to credibility and salary.

Then a ways down in the article, Darnton talks about how the Enlightenment is now at our fingertips with the digitization of books, “Openness is operating everywhere, thanks to "open access" repositories of digitized articles available free of charge, the Open Content Alliance, the Open Knowledge Commons, OpenCourseWare, the Internet Archive, and openly amateur enterprises like Wikipedia. The democratization of knowledge now seems to be at our fingertips. We can make the Enlightenment ideal come to life in reality.? We are finally almost getting what literary minds have always craved for, except in the worst way possible.

Darnton argues that business is taking over our coffee shops, public spheres, and Enlightenment air by big businesses such as Google, and selling research books online. “To digitize collections and sell the product in ways that fail to guarantee wide access would be to repeat the mistake that was made when publishers exploited the market for scholarly journals, but on a much greater scale, for it would turn the Internet into an instrument for privatizing knowledge that belongs in the public sphere.? Darnton feels that we’ve missed out on a good thing, and have let the big businesses take over once again. Businesses are stealing even more money from authors and publishers then ever before and giving them to their shareholders. The 21st century is great, but it is definitely all about getting as much money as possible in popular revenue and targets all audiences. And they have targeted the whole scholarly community by making it easier to pay for a section of a research textbook rather than walking down to the library and reading it for free.

“An enterprise on such a scale is bound to elicit reactions of the two kinds that I have been discussing: on the one hand, utopian enthusiasm; on the other, jeremiads about the danger of concentrating power to control access to information.? Darnton’s first reaction is that of enthusiasm that this information will readily be available and at our fingertips for when needed. That Google has its best intensions at hand, such as libraries can use digital copies of out of print books to restore damaged books or even Google has come up with some system to help engineer texts for readers with disabilities. On the other hand though readers are unable to print off selections without paying a small fee, which is the same at any public library, except that the money goes to the copyrighters rather than the library. The only downfall in this digital book revolution is the effect it will have on libraries.

In the settlement Google made earlier this year, the company said their goal was to provide information access and not to create a monopoly. From this they pay the copyrighters, and most authors and publishers own US copyrights will automatically be covered by the settlement. Google is slowly proving to Darnton that they are making the Enlightenment dream come true. But it is hard not to say that Google has not already started the next big Monopoly, they have already run out smaller websites who were doing the same thing. “No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability.?

Darnton ends the article with superstitions about the future and debates whether Google’s plan will blow up in their faces when they charge too much or will the achieve his dream of Enlightenment? Either way this definitely marks a new stage for the information era.