THANKS TO SHANNON'S NEW PARADIGM, IN RECENT YEARS WE'VE COME TO RECOGNIZE THAT WORDS, WRITING, MUSIC, IMAGES ALL HAVE A COMMON DENOMINATOR. ONCE UPON A TIME WE SAW DIFFERENCES; TODAY, THANKS TO DIGITIZATION, WE RECOGNIZE COMMONALITY.
We know that they're information, members of a species, and we know it so deeply that it now seems obvious. Still, it's fun to look back and see that it wasn't always obvious.
IN NOVEMBER 1995, YOU PUBLISHED A SEMINAL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, "MAKING MICROSOFT SAFE FOR CAPITALISM." IN THAT CONTROVERSIAL PIECE, YOU WERE AHEAD OF THE CURVE. YOU EXPLAINED THE LARGER SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF HOW MICROSOFT DID BUSINESS AND FLEXED ITS MUSCLE. AND MICROSOFT WAS NOT PLEASED. TODAY, YOUR INSIGHTS ARE MORE OR LESS ACCEPTED AS CONVENTIONAL WISDOM. WITH ALL OF THIS IN MIND, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NEWS THAT MICROSOFT IS PLANNING TO TAKE ANTITRUST ACTION AGAINST GOOGLE IN EUROPE?
I don't have anything to say about the specifics of that. I have mixed feelings about some of the things that Google does, but like all the rest of us I'm a huge Google user and . . . I don't really want to comment.
LET'S MOVE ON THEN. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF NEWS THAT A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS TORPEDOED A COMPLICATED AND PAINSTAKINGLY NEGOTIATED AGREEMENT BETWEEN WRITERS AND GOOGLE TO CREATE A DIGITIZED LIBRARY OF EVERY BOOK EVER PUBLISHED?
I have plenty of opinions on that. I was very involved in negotiating the Google Books settlement. I was working on behalf of the authors, of course. I was all for it, I thought it was a very good settlement. There was a lot of opposition. A lot of the opposition, I think, came from people who didn't understand the terms. It was a very complicated thing. I think there's a lot of confusion right now about how, in the absence of a settlement, all of this is going to work itself out.
PLEASE SIMPLIFY. WHERE DO THINGS STAND?
The situation now is that Google has on its servers illegal copies of millions of copyrighted books, illegally obtained and illegally stored. A lot of people — including me — are making good use of that material. It's not clear what's going to happen to all of that stuff. But it is clear, in my opinion, that they have it illegally. Things can't go on this way. The settlement was meant to legitimize what Google is doing in a way that was going to give the copyright holders their fair share of the vast amounts of money that Google is making from these works.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?
Some of the people who are opposed to the settlement feared, with some reason, that Google was potentially a monopolist and it wasn't going to be fair to Google's competitors. That's moot now because the settlement is gone.
The challenge that remains — apart from figuring out what to do with Google's illegal use of the books — is how to re-create for the public's benefit the kind of great digital library that was going to be created very quickly through the Google Books settlement. That's now off the table. It's just not going to happen. There was going to be a way for any of us customers to get digital access to all of the world's books. And, in the cases where they were in copyright, to pay for them. Some of that money would get to the authors. That part of it was what I liked.