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Google library project runs into resistance

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Search engine Google has changed its digital library project to appease copyright holders -- but has ended up angering both publishers and free-speech advocates.

Google now says it will include copyrighted material but will give publishers a chance to request that their books not be included.

That decision may spark yet another Napster-like battle over copyrights in the digital age. Publishers and other content companies worry that posting material online makes it vulnerable to piracy and hurts sales. Google and many other technology companies say they need to be free to innovate and use content in new ways.

Google's library is an ambitious project that began in December. The company is scanning books at five libraries, including those at Harvard and Stanford universities. The texts are fed into the Google search engine. That way, a Google search for "Abraham Lincoln" will turn up not only Web pages about the president but books that mention him as well.

The system is designed to help users find books -- not to read them online in their entirety. Books are displayed a page at a time, which makes it cumbersome to read long passages.

Google started by scanning books not under copyright, such as older texts. The next phase is copyrighted books, and Google has been negotiating with publishers since June, says Patricia Schroeder, CEO of the Association of American Publishers, a trade group. But talks broke down last week when Google announced its own copyright policy, Schroeder says.

Adam Smith, the Google manager in charge of the project, says he believes Google has a right to use the books under a legal doctrine called "fair use." Fair use permits copying under certain circumstances. It allows CD owners to make a backup copy of their music, or TV fans to record shows on a TiVo or other digital video recorder, for example.

But Smith said Google is giving copyright holders a chance to opt out of the library project as a courtesy. "We're trying to create a project that balances the needs of users and publishers," he said.

Google seems to have pleased neither side.

*Publishers say Google should ask permission to use their books, rather than requiring them to opt out. "This really stands the law on its head," the AAP's Schroeder says. "Nobody has a right to copy everything you have without permission."

Some legal experts agree. "If you (copy a book) without permission, that's infringement," says Louis Bonham, a copyright lawyer at Houston law firm Osha Liang. "You can't put it back on the copyright holder to say no."

*Free-speech advocates say Google shouldn't give publishers the choice of opting out, because copying the books for searches is a fair use. "The point of copyright law is not to give people absolute control over everything they write," says Jason Schultz, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group. "It's to compensate artists and authors for the works that they create." Google's library won't take away from book sales, and could even increase them, Schultz says.

The debate is unlikely to be resolved soon. The AAP says it will meet this week to decide on a plan. An injunction stopping Google from proceeding is a possibility, Bonham says. Google says it won't start scanning copyrighted books until November.

The fight should have little impact on Google Publisher, a separate program in which publishers volunteer books to be added to the search engine's databases.

Google's print efforts are just one of the ways the company is trying to expand its reach. Others include maps, e-mail and blogging software.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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