Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Resisting Change Will Cost You Money

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt has a great opinion piece up over at the WSJ. Thanks to Mark Thoma for the link. He talks about the resistance of publishers to allow Google Print to index their books, despite the likelihood of increasing their sales.

Even those critics who understand that copyright law is not absolute argue that making a full copy of a given work, even just to index it, can never constitute fair use. If this were so, you wouldn't be able to record a TV show to watch it later or use a search engine that indexes billions of Web pages. The aim of the Copyright Act is to protect and enhance the value of creative works in order to encourage more of them -- in this case, to ensure that authors write and publishers publish. We find it difficult to believe that authors will stop writing books because Google Print makes them easier to find, or that publishers will stop selling books because Google Print might increase their sales.

Indeed, some of Google Print's primary beneficiaries will be publishers and authors themselves. Backlist titles comprise the vast majority of books in print and a large portion of many publishers' profits, but just a fraction of their marketing budgets. Google Print will allow those titles to live forever, just one search away from being found and purchased. Some authors are already seeing the benefits. When Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, millions of people who searched his name saw the Google Print listing for his book "In the Beginning" (Wm. B. Eerdmans) in their results. Thousands of them looked at a page or two from the book; clicks on the title's "Buy this Book" links increased tenfold.

Doe this sound familiar? Maybe if a publisher said: "Google Print is to the printed book as the Boston strangler is to a woman home alone!". Thats what Jack Valenti said of the VCR.

"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone," he argued in congressional testimony.

Valenti is often chided for the infamous quote, but he maintains it was a rhetorical statement intended to persuade Congress to give the industry a copyright royalty fee for every video produced. The Supreme Court ruled against Universal's and Sony's attempt to ban the VCR, and home-video sales now account for more than 50% of Hollywood's revenue.

It seems that at every turn, those who earn money from creative industries with copyright protections vehemently resist new technology. Look at the RIAA and P2P technology. Do we really think on net it destroys the urge to create? Porn has been way out in front on this. They embraced the vcr, and were the only ones making money in the early days of the internet. I think these publishers are just missing the boat. Or maybe the publishers realize that the technology may cut them out of the revenue steam, and the creators and the consumers will benefit. I need to think about this more.

Anyhow David Levine maintains a useful page on intellectual property and copy right issues here.

Mark my words, Google will rule the world, despite what Adam L. Penenberg says.

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