GBS: Jamie Boyle on the Europeans, “We Must Stop Google Books Because It Will Work!!!”

There are good reasons to worry about the Google Book Search Settlement, as I explained at length here. But of all of the reasons to oppose it, this utterly surreal statement is my favourite:

European officials fear that if the Google project goes ahead in the US, a yawning transatlantic gap will open up in education and research.

“Oh my God! The Americans are about to create a private workaround of the enormous mess that we regulators have made of national copyright policy! They will fix the unholy legal screwups that leave most of the books of 20th century culture unavailable, yet still under copyright! They will gain access to their cultural heritage — giving them a huge competitive advantage in education. This MUST BE STOPPED!! No one can be allowed to fix this for any other country because then we would be left alone stewing in our own intellectual property stupidity! We must forbid their progress in order to protect our ignorance.”

But wait, there’s more. If anyone does do it, it must be the state! (Which so far has failed completely to provide legal access to orphan works or commercially unavailable works, works that are unavailable because of… wait for it, wait for it, the state locking up our cultural heritage unnecessarily)

I don’t defend the EU bureaucrats. So far as I am concerned, they are making themselves part of the problem right now. As witness a consultation on copyright, the announcement of which lurks hidden in a document purporting to be a consultation on Europeana, the European digital repository. As witness the fact that that document mentions authors precisely once, in connection with the existing term of copyright. (And the set of questions issued with it fails to mention authors at all.) All that ‘content’ and ‘culture’ they are so keen on apparently produces itself. As witness the fact that Commissioners Reding and McCreevey appear to have virtually announced their conclusions already, in a memo published the very morning the consultation was scheduled to begin.

But Boyle’s piece is founded on a slippery manoeuvre that, rather than enlightening his readers, obscures the truth. He jeers at the EU officials for their undoubted envy of the scale of the Google Book Corpus, then implies that they are the ones behind the massive European opposition to the Settlement. In fact, Reding has avoided even seeming to criticise Google, and her original public statement about it was read (rightly or wrongly) as a coded encouragement. It is European governments and European publishers who have filed objections to the settlement, not the European Commission. Their purposes are legitimate and necessary: to protect the rights of copyright-holders, prevent the destruction of value in their intellectual property, and ensure the continued health of the European publishing industry.