GBS: David Drummond Channels Sergey Brin


David Drummond has an editorial in the Guardian, Google: We Will Bring Books Back to Life. It bears a strong resemblance to Sergey Brin’s A Library to Last Forever from the New York Times in October. How strong?

Drummond:

Google’s founders recognised the problem back when Google was just a start-up in the late 1990s. They proposed a project to digitise all the world’s books, but at that time the idea seemed so far-fetched they couldn’t persuade anyone in the company to work on it. It took a further five years before Google Books was born. Today, users can access information contained in more than 10m books.

Brin:

… Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, first proposed that we digitize all books a decade ago, when we were a fledgling startup. At the time, it was viewed as so ambitious and challenging a project that we were unable to attract anyone to work on it. But five years later, in 2004, Google Books (then called Google Print) was born, allowing users to search hundreds of thousands of books. Today, they number over 10 million and counting.

Drummond:

Yet doubts remain, and there is particular concern among authors that they are in danger of handing control of their work to Google. Let me address that concern and dispel some of the myths.

Brin:

There has been some debate about the settlement, and many groups have offered their opinions, both for and against. I would like to take this opportunity to dispel some myths about the agreement and to share why I am proud of this undertaking.

Drummond:

The settlement aims to make access to millions of books available either for a fee or for free, supported by advertisements, with the majority of the revenue flowing back to the rights holders.

Brin:

This agreement aims to make millions of out-of-print but in-copyright books available either for a fee or for free with ad support, with the majority of the revenue flowing back to the rights holders, be they authors or publishers.

Drummond:

The reality is that they can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether.

Brin:

The reality is that rights holders can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether.

Drummond:

Some have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, suggesting it will limit consumer choice and hand Google a monopoly. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other organisation from pursuing its own digitisation efforts.

Brin:

Others have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, or asserted that it would limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort.

Drummond:

We wish there were a hundred such services. But despite a number of important projects to date – and Google has helped fund some of them – none has been on the same scale simply because no one else has yet chosen to invest the time and resources required. But if there are to be a hundred services in future, we have to start with one.

Brin:

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources. At least one such service will have to exist if there are ever to be one hundred.

Drummond:

If we successful, others will follow. And they will have an easier path.

Brin:

If Google Books is successful, others will follow. And they will have an easier path …


“And if you’re an author, you have no way to make money from your work if it’s out of print.”

Nonsense.

Google is far from the only game in town. In fact, those authors who have most strongly opposed the settlement proposal have been those who are the strongest believers in electronic distribution.

These authors are already pursuing the increasingly-competitive market opportunities to distribute their “out of print” books electronically: through authors’ own websites, through direct sales of PDF’s, or through licensing to e-book distributors. Time and again, we heard from them at events for writers about the settlement.

For these writers, the settlement would mean not a new market or new revenue (under the settlement’s definitions and allocations, most revenue would go to print publishers, regardless of who owns the electronic rights under current contracts), but new, artificially created competition for their rights and revenues from Google and print publishers, structurally privileged by the settlement.

At best, it would mean a complex new bureaucratic process for writers to claim their existing rights against the inevitable, if unfounded, counterclaims by publishers to control of electronic rights and revenues. At worse, it could mean loss of their rights in “one-strike-your-out” arbitration.

Google errs in lumping together authors and print publishers as having “forgotten” their books. An author no more forgets their books than a mother her children, unless the books really deserve to disappear from view.

It’s (print) publishers, not authors, who have abandoned “out of print” books. It’s publishers who went to court (unsuccessfully) in Random House v. Rosetta Books to try to stop writers from making books that publishers were no longer printing available to the public again as e-books.


If I were the copyright holder of the first piece written, I’d be suing the author of the second piece for infringement.

BUT, as I understand it, it is not illegal to reprint a press release, and even rework it and put your name on it. For example, publishers’ press releases announcing new books are very commonly reworked a little (if at all) and then published as “book reviews.” I’ve been told this is because press releases have an “implied license” for reprinting: Certainly, that’s what the businesses who send out press releases desire and expect.

I suspect that is what happened here: Google sent out a press release, or at least gave this journalist suggested copy, and he used it.


Drummond:

And the rights holders will remain in control. The reality is that they can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether.

Authors of so-called ‘inserts’ cannot set the prices for their works - they won’t get paid for them. Nor can they ‘withdraw them from Google Books altogether.’ They have very little control (as I detailed in my paper on inserts).

Authors of books who wake up after March 9, 2012 and discover they have been opted in to this injurious settlement will also be unable to ‘withdraw them from Google Books altogether.’


David Drummond is a Senior Vice President at Google and its chief legal officer.


So I guess the Q is, did Drummond decide to copy Brin’s choice phrases, or did Brin copy Drummond’s choice phrases? I’m just supposing it’s the former due to the timing, but I guess it could be the latter — after all, Drummond is a lawyer and Brin is an engineer! ;-)


Third possibility: both Brin and Drummond were working from a set of talking points written by the Google PR division. Variation on third possibility: the Google PR division placed two versions of the same column, one in the NYT under Brin’s name, the other in the Guardian under Drummond’s, either not knowing or not caring that they were pretty much the same column.


Those of us who create the copyright works that Google is hell-bent on exploiting understand that originality and intellectual honesty are the essence of good writing. Drummond or Brin (whoever plagiarised whom) clearly does not. This may help to explain why Google has made such a hash of the GBS - the proponents of the scheme do not understand books. They appear to believe that the transcendent power of the written word to change the course of history can be extracted from the printed page by any philistine with a scanner and a good search engine.


You’re right, Gillian. A rude surprise indeed.

Drummond: And the rights holders will remain in control. The reality is that they can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether.

I rather doubt both Mr. Drummond and Mr. Brin on this point. As I’ve noted before, the “opt out” language on the settlement page implies that Google may one day simply override what an author chooses.

Their lips keep saying yes, yes!

But the written word says, maybe no.

“…If you checked the box on the Opt Out form requesting that Google not digitize books that you identified the Settlement Administrator will pass along your request to Google. Although Google has no obligation under the settlement to comply with such request, Google has advised the Settlement Administrator that its current policy is to voluntarily honor such requests and refrain from digitizing your books or, if they have already been digitized, refrain from displaying them…”


Hilarious, great find and even better presentation.


It appears that Brin used Google Buzz to draft his op-ed. Perhaps Drummond was one of his contacts?


Mirror mirror on the wall who is the fairest of the two?

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