Friday, September 25, 2009

Google Book Search and Why I Still Haven't Seen Pulp Fiction

Google hatched a plan back in 2002 to scan books so they could be searched and read online. Not just some books: all of them.

My immediate reaction is that this is an awesome project. Think about it - the world's biggest library. The world's library. Everything you could read, online and waiting. Isn't that what a library is? Access to books and information? Libraries and the internet have already started holding hands. Is this the perfect marriage?

I can go to a library and take out any book for free. I don't have to pay for my library card. The library bought the book, or someone donated it but they bought the book, whatever - the book was paid for in some manner. Once the book is in the library, anyone with a card can take it out. This is true in tiny communities all the way up to big cities; anyone can take this book out provided they don't take it so far as to strand it far away from its library home. I've never heard of an author having any problem with this, but then again, I haven't looked.

I've never heard of authors complaining about people lending their books to their friends. The friend doesn't buy a copy, so just like the library, the author doesn't get any cash from it. That's still okay. So where's the point where it's not okay to pass books around without paying for them? When the books travel between cities? Can they only go X number of miles?

Authors should be paid for their works. Authors are often a struggling lot to begin with; they put in work, they should be paid so they can do things like, say, eat. Or sleep somewhere warm and dry. Maybe even get a new shirt every once in a while, that kind of thing. We all agree on that. We all agree that libraries are good things, too, so at what point does it become wrong to distribute those books for free?

Musicians have had this problem ever since someone came up with file sharing. I always hear differing reports: either the music industry is crashing because of people downloading music, or it's actually pretty much doing the same. I like to think it's doing about the same, but I don't have the facts on that one and I'm not sure I'd trust anyone who said they did. I know I was very pleased when iTunes started selling single tracks for ninety-nine cents. I could preview it for thirty seconds, which was often enough even if it wasn't perfect, and it was still better than buying a CD for one track I knew I liked and thirteen others I had no idea about. It's convenient, and I buy a lot more music than I used to because of it. iTunes can be dangerous; ninety-nine cents adds up quickly.

I don't have to buy music. I have the ability to go find a torrent site, look up what I want, and just take it for free. It's illegal, but I can do it. I have a responsibility not to do that, a responsibility to pay for things I take. This paying thing makes it possible for the people who make the music to eat, sleep in warm places, and sometimes get a new shirt. That's how it should be.

I guess what puzzles me is where the line is for books. I don't agree with authors being denied money for their work. I don't like that there are some books I can never read. I don't even like it when I try to rent a movie at the store and they don't have it. If it's not new, it's just not there, and that bugs me. Some of us haven't seen Pulp Fiction yet. I would hate for it to become difficult to read a book just because it wasn't new. More difficult, anyway. Some of those suckers are out of print and I'd have to scour second hand book stores in cities far larger than the one I live in. So Google books would be good, right? Yes. And no. Maybe. I'm not the only one having a hard time deciding.


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