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GLOBE EDITORIAL

Google's rush to print

GOOGLE, FLUSH WITH resources, has a grand vision to catalog and offer snippets of every book in the New York Public Library and several university collections, including Harvard's. But this is a case of too ambitious and too quickly. The Google proposal probably runs afoul of US copyright law, and an incremental approach is better to insure maximum online access to the riches of great libraries.

Google would have no problem if it limited its new search engine, Google Print, to only those books published before 1923. But after that, most works are covered by copyright, and enough copyright holders objected to inclusion that the Authors Guild, a trade association for published writers, has filed suit. These people and companies have a legitimate interest in determining who may publish their books.

Google says it has no plans to allow access to the complete text of anything under copyright. Those works would merely be listed by title, and, if the copyright holder allows, a short excerpt would be included. Any copyright holder is free to opt out. If a copyright holder does nothing, Google would include only the title and other bibliographical information, just as a library does. Google Print also would allow users to search for phrases and see snippets of text that contains those words.

For Google Print to function, Google will have to convert the text of books into digital form and put them into its database. The Authors Guild is right that this is a form of publication, which almost certainly requires prior permission of the copyright holder. The ''opt out" provision is inadequate protection.

The Authors Guild is particularly irked that Google will include paid advertising on some sections of Google Print. It's not known how much money Google Print will make, but the authors understandably would like a cut of the profits, no matter how small.

A trial date has not yet been scheduled for the suit, leaving plenty of time for negotiations. And while Google has stopped routinely scanning books into its database, Google Print remains online, with thousands of books available, excerpted by permission of the copyright holder. It's a useful service, and Google should act now to get as many books in the database as possible.

A consortium called the Open Content Alliance, which includes Google's rival Yahoo!, is setting up another library database but is working methodically to obtain copyright holders' permission before it includes their work. There's no word yet on when that catalogue will be available to online browsers. This prior-approval approach ought to be followed by Google Print as well.

It's in the interest of libraries, authors, and readers to make this online reference source as comprehensive as possible. Resolving the copyright issue will ensure the long-term success of Google Print.

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