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Backing the Luddites Sep 21

It is unusual for me to come down on the side of backwardsness and tradition when these are pitted against modern technology, but I hope the authors suing Google win.

Being a massive corporation doesn’t come with a free pass to ignore the law – whatever precedents various big businesses may have set – and this applies to copyright as much as to fraud, insider dealing and waste dumping. In this case, Google is digitising copyrighted works without the permission of the authors.

Writers are, generally speaking, entitled to control how their works are published. Google rather arrogantly declared that it would respect the wishes of authors who wanted to opt out, but that’s not how copyright law works. Telling authors that the project

“directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness of and sales of the books in the programme”

is a patronising, “mother knows best” attitude and the authors are right to object. Providing books and journals in electronic is useful and valuable – hence the wide range of companies now publishing online and the growing number of free electronic journals. The digitisation of popular books is welcome but authors need to be brought on side, not steamrollered into it.

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