Google Right or Wrong?

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It is common knowledge that Google is making a full-court press to scan as many in- and out-of-print books as possible to make them available to anyone who wants them. This dubious goal is at the heart of copyright and copywrong debates.

But books are not the only target: Magazines are the next frontier. As Jeffrey Peng notes on the blog Inside Google Books, “I’m a software engineer on Google Books. One of my main projects is adding magazine content and features to the site.” And he has done so, including old and new material. However, this collection is not without its problems or protests.

For one, the illustrator Laura Ljungkvist recently discovered that the illustration (above), which she did for a 2008 issue of Prevention magazine, had been tampered with to fit the Google format. “To my surprise, my art had been altered!” she recently wrote me. “If you look at the sun behind the woman in my illustration, and compare it to the images from Google Books (below), you can see that my art was clearly altered.” In her case, the change was minor. Still, as she asks, “But are they also making changes in texts? Novels, news, laws, statistics… Is Google becoming a ‘Big Brother’?”

Ljungkvist learned from a lawyer that the phrase “copyrighted material” is inserted by Google on all scanned pages as a “courtesy” to the copyright holder. Amazon started the practice with its “Look Inside” the book feature. Nevertheless, Google has infringed her copyright by scanning her art without permission. The Google Book Search settlement specifically excludes both periodicals and visual art. Yet, according to the lawyer, unless someone sues Google (an expensive proposition) for illegally scanning and making available periodicals without a license, this practice will continue without consequence to Google.

Google Book Search