GBS: Wired: Google’s Abandoned Library of 700 Million Titles

This one has been making the rounds; Google’s USENET archive has serious search and usability issues.

Google’s unauthorized bootleg re-publication of Usenet articles has far more severe copyright problems than Google Book Search.

Google distributes copies of (almost) complete articles from Usenet, regardless of their length, not just snippets. Google does not respect expiration dates (which could reasonably be construed as time limits on any implied license for redistribution) even when they are included in Usenet articles. Google does not respect copyright notices or licensing terms, even when they are explicitly included in articles. Google indiscriminately republishes articles published anywhere in the Usenet world, to readers anywhere in the world. Google includes ads, no part of the revenue from which is, so far as I know, shared with any author.

This is unquestionably a for-profit full-text bootlegging system, and Google’s single most flagrantly copyright-infringing activity.

Bizarrely, the only portion of articles from Usenet that Google alters (other than wrapping them in advertising for Google itself and third parties) is the author’s e-mail address.

Even before the creation of standardized licensing terms like Creative Commons “attribution” licenses, the opportunity to be known as the author, and for readers to be able to contact one (if one chose to include an e-mail address in one’s article) was a major reason for people to write for Usenet. By munging authors’ addresses, Google systematically violates explicit Creative Commons licensing terms in many articles, and violates the “moral rights” of authors under the laws of many countries where their articles were first published to Usenet.

Google adds a “Reply to Author” Google link (the meaning of which can’t be determined without registering with Google), which is certainly misleading, potentially damaging to author’ reputations, and could be taken as a false assertion of authorship or ownership by Google.

To add insult to injury, Google includes in each such bootleg republished article a link to Google’s terms of service, as though Google owned any rights in the work or to control how it was used or re-used.

To sum up: Google’s mis-use of Usenet archives isn’t just an example of how much more interested they are in profits than stewardship of what they falsely claim is a “public” resource (you can’t blame them: that’s their legal duty as a for-profit corporation), but their propensity to steal, exploit for profit, and falsely claim their own “rights” in any text they can get their robots’ hands on, completely disregarding the authors and existing rightsholders.

There could not be a more compelling lesson in, “Author Beware” of Google.

The question is were these old usenet postings works for hire, and/or unegistered and therefore unenforceable in US courts. See the pending Reed Elsevier case. It sounds like Google bought the archive from a prior defunct assembler, including work for hire licenseses and rights, and they are on Google servers like the Google Book Data base will be. So usenet postings are different from the links that usually pop up in search results. Of course if there is an author or rights holder of a usenet posting that did register the work with the copyright office, maybe he can prosecute a case on some of these issues.But this usenet stuff is very different from the orphan and other books, registered years ago, and being swept up in the GBS.

Google bought some copies of usenet postings form Deja News. But deja news never owned or claimed any rights, or claimed to be selling or licensing to Google any rights — just the physical media with copies.

Nor has there ever been any claim (not basis for any claim) that articles posted to Usenet were “works for hire” for Google or anyone else (which would require, among other things, written contracts specifying such).

Most Usenet postings were and are from outside the USQA, and thus don’t require registration.

Because of the redistribution of (almost) complete articles rather thn “snippets”, the fair use case for Usenet is much weaker than for Google Book Search.

This is very interesting, but to be a case there has to be a usenet author and or rights holder stepping forward, and if in a foreign forum, an atty there to take on the case.

If and when that happens it will GBS and Reed Elseveir , deja vu all over again.