Thursday, August 13, 2009
Google has been working on a monumental project to scan millions of library books and put them online. Many of those books are not yet readable, because of a copyright lawsuit filed by authors and publishers. That lawsuit has been tentatively settled, and if a judge approves the deal this fall, millions more books will be available to browse through and read.
It would be the world’s greatest virtual library. But some authors have mixed emotions about its effect on the act of reading.
Novelist Jonathan Lethem says Google should be “congratulated” for its effort. Lethem adds, “This is the moment to take a look and say, ‘Why isn’t it as private as the world we’re being asked to leave behind, the world of physical books?’ ”
Lethem wonders whether future readers will have the same kind of relationship with books that he had. “When I was on this very private, very eccentric, intense journey as a younger person, it was crucial that it be a solitary practice,” he says. But if future readers have reason to think they’re leaving a digital trail, he adds, it might deprive the reading experience of its intimacy.
Lethem is one of several authors — including Michael Chabon and Cory Doctorow — who have signed on to a campaign to pressure Google Books to offer greater privacy guarantees for its readers. The effort was organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.