Crawford Connects the Digitization Dots
In the March edition of E-Content, Walt Crawford discusses the open access possibilities and economies of scale that could result from a loose collaboration between Google’s Book Search project, the Open Content Alliance, and the Creative Commons license scheme.
What do you get when you combine a four-year-old licensing system and two possibly complementary projects to digitize substantial quantities of print information? With luck, a substantial ecommons: millions of digital items that can be used directly and as the basis for derivative works without infringing copyright. These projects should also result in full-text indexing for millions more items that won’t be freely available online but can be acquired through libraries and booksellers.
Pulling these threads together, OCA encourages use of Creative Commons licenses whenever that makes sense. That makes it more likely that a good deal of copyright material will be available under appropriate license, since Creative Commons licenses offer carefully drawn ways to “give away” some copyright control without losing copyright. Google isn’t part of this combination yet, but it wouldn’t take much to make the public domain works part of the greater whole.
Conceptually, Crawford’s observations make sense. But I think Crawford’s view of the potential inherent in such a combination is unlikely to happen. Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft are competing publicly-held corporations that ultimately are looking to exploit the next great market. To be fair, I’m sure each of these companies has some altruistic motive for being involved in their respective projects, but their ultimate goal is to be in the game if and when the content market shifts significantly enough for them to be major players in it. And once they find the game, each wants to write its rules.
In my view, the involvement of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft the digitization game amounts to a scouting session wherein each company will determine just how involved they will get in the content market beyond search. The possibilities — research database, bookseller, music seller, or even publisher — are endless. It’s not about the commons; it’s about the cash.
Walt Crawford. Building the Econtent Commons. EContent. March 2006.
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