Book publisher steals Google laptops from The Register covers the
jaw-dropping action of Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillian Publishing, stealing
laptops from a Google booth at BookExpo America to try and prove a point about
Google "stealing" books for its book search service.
Our justification for this appalling piece of criminal behaviour? The owner
of the computer had not specifically told us not to steal it. If s/he had, we
would not have done so. When s/he asked for its return, we did so. It is
exactly what Google expects publishers to expect and accept in respect to
As I’ve written before (see
here), the legality
of scanning in-copyright books without permission and presenting short summaries
(rather than reprinting the actual books) remains very much in question. Some
publishers say Google is stealing content; others disagree, including Google.
That’s why we have on-going court cases to resolve the matter.
In contrast, there’s not a lot of fair use or intellectual property debate
over taking a laptop that doesn’t belong to you.
A copyright statement does not give someone full rights to control content.
It provides very specific rights, which are sometimes debated. While I’m not a
lawyer, property law tends to be less debatable. If you don’t own the property,
you don’t get to take it.
Perhaps Charkin can better understand the difference this way. Was it theft
to read a book, then cite a short passage from it? Generally not. Was it theft
to walk into a bookstore and physically take a book you didn’t buy? Yes.
FYI, Charkin’s blog
lacks a robots.txt file, so I assume he has no problem with the thieving big
G indexing all of his copyright-protected pages for the purposes of web search.
To be consistent with his concerns over copyright, he really ought to put one up
and block search engines from spidering his web site unless they call him up,
send him an email, send him a letter or otherwise obtain his express permission.
Search Engines, Permissions &
Moving Forward In Copyright Battles from me explains this issue in more
depth. To be fair, I agree with Charkin that I’d like Google to stop scanning
in-copyright books because unlike with web search, there’s no easy way to
automatically ask for permission. But legally, the search engine might very well
be found to be within fair use guidelines. Certainly the question is less
clear-cut than stealing a laptop.