After 11 years of battle between Google — now a unit of the just-named Alphabet conglomerate — and the Authors Guild, a professional organization of published writers, the second US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Google’s book project is protected under fair use [paper trail]. Responding to this judgment, the American Library Association (ALA) announced that “Libraries laud appeals court affirmation that mass book digitization by Google is ‘fair use’.” Larry Alford, president of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) concurred, stating that ”ARL applauds this victory for fair use regarding the Google Books project, which involved partnerships with many of our libraries.”
Is this outcome truly a cause for celebration? For whom is this a victory? What this verdict actually signifies may be understood only by clarifying the nature of the conflict; and analysis needs to go beyond “access,” as if “access” constitutes an absolute virtue – the be-all -and-the-end-all.
Google’s search engine has long been the premier gateway to the Web, granting Google a dominant market position online (around 60+ percent of all computer Web searches). This has enabled Google to seize a disproportionate share of Web advertising. However, Google’s dominance is not guaranteed. Competition to control the Internet has intensified between Google and other Web giants — Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. From Google’s perspective the question of how to maintain its market position could hardly be more vital.
Its superb search technology — its secret algorithm — isn’t enough, in itself, to ensure supremacy. An additional element is also required. Only by protecting and, if possible, expanding its user-base, to feed streams of data into the company’s means of production — its search algorithm — will Google’s dominance in Web advertising be protected. Expanding its user-base in turn may be accomplished only by introducing, or taking over, services and content with which to draw additional users, and with which to target ads at what the industry calls “most-needed audiences.” Read more