back to article Book publisher steals Google laptops

Angered by Google's attempts to copy their works, publishers have decided to strike back against the ad broker by stealing its technology. Late last week, at New York City’s BookExpo America, the CEO of Macmillan Publishers pilfered two laptops from a booth where Google was promoting its Book Search service, part of an effort …


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  1. James Brash


    I dont see what the big deal is about google digitizing books... surely its a good thing. It allows previously unknown or inaccessible works available to everyone.

  2. kotsa

    Gone Punk?!?!?

    By Jove, has the grey suit establishment gone punk? They're right you know, Google is waaaaaaay too eager to do things. I love them for it, but they have to figure where to draw the line. kudos for the publishers, that must have been a hell of a moment.

  3. Nick Galloway

    Copyright hypocracy

    When the Entertainment industry starts throwing it toys out of the pram Google pulls out all the stops to curtail access to this protected data but then turns around and lifts the intellectual property of book publishers and ignores them. Stick to scanning documents out of copyright, there must be loads of that to get through.

    Love the publishers approach. If Google leaves stuff lying around without a great big sign saying 'Please leave the laptops where you found them' is truly justice. It could have been better if they lifted them and then sent them an email to tell them of the 'public donation'...

  4. Mectron

    Way to much power

    openly criminal Copyright owners have way to much power these days. Stealing a Laptop is a CRIME as you take something PHYSICAL that you will need to pay money to replace. when you digitalize a book you STEAL NOTHING AT ALL, the owner actually made money, because you have to buy the book. consulting the google book let you see small part of the book, much like browsing in a book store. And even if the full book was available online, what is the different with a PUBLIC LIBRARY?

    The only thing (c) owners want is ethernal rights to streal money from consumer and LOCK down the worl's cultural heritage.

    Give all the rights you want to IP as long the (c) is only for the resonanble time (MAX 5 years) and they its public domain.

  5. Chris

    They got it slightly wrong

    I would love to meet these guys and shake their hands. That took guts, but it does provide an excellent analogy for what Google does to the publishers and authors. With one exception. They say that Google did not have a sign saying "Please do not steal the computers". I would say that requiring publishers and authors to opt-out is not the same as putting up a "Please do not steal" sign. No, a better analogy would be that requiring publishers and authors to opt-out is like requiring Google to hand out a "Please do not steal" letter to everyone visiting the booth. All books and publications already have the legal form of a "Please do not steal" notice -- it's called the copyright. So even if Google had such a sign, they still would have been able to steal the laptops and be within the spirit and actions that Google is promoting.

    And you know, is it just me, or is the "the data wants to be free" mantra that Google keeps repeating year in and year out just a bit hypocritical? Seriously, how strongly have they fought to protect their search/index algorithms? Don't those data bits want to be free?

  6. James Anderson

    Copyright is about ownership.

    You wrote it, you own it, you decide how and where it can be published.

    If you want to use a copyrighted work in a particular context then its up to you to get permision from the copyright owners. If you wrote a cool song and dont want it used in a Republican add campgain you can just say no.

    Google seems to be flouting this rule purely on the basis that most of these authors dont have the funds to get involved in long winded legal battles.

    Do no evil^h^h^h^h^h^h^hnt lose in court.

  7. Simon Dragon

    Money? Don't kid yourself

    Metron, you might be shocked to learn just how little money writers in fact make. Certainly some of them do very well for themselves, but don't think for one minute that we're all rolling in seas of green... In point of fact, the results of a survey carried out here in the UK were made public a few weeks ago (I read an article in one of the broadsheets; I forget which one) stating that about 5% of the writers in the UK had around 90% of the total wealth accounted for by writers... and the average earnings of the others for their work was less than £10k per annum. We dumb saps need every penny we can get.

    You ask what's the difference between reading a book online and borrowing from a public library. Quite a bit, as a matter of fact. There's a Public Lending Agreement which states that each time a book is borrowed, a small amount of money is credited to the author, and periodically the author receives a small royalty fee.

    And if you're interested, Chris, at least part of the Google search algorithm is available online, as is the core structure of the search engine. Brin and Page wrote a paper on it while at university, and I've read several papers on the maths behind Google. I have to admit, it's ingenious. Here's a couple of links, if the moderators will permit: and

  8. VanTC

    Way to much power???

    "when you digitalize a book you STEAL NOTHING AT ALL, the owner actually made money, because you have to buy the book. consulting the google book let you see small part of the book, much like browsing in a book store. And even if the full book was available online, what is the different with a PUBLIC LIBRARY?"

    Wtf?? I don't make sh*t when somebody copies my books and puts them for free on the web. Maybe legally I am entitled to get money but you know *in real life* very few people pay for what they downloaded in the first place.

    Besides it's definitely not the same as a public library as libraries *BUY* their books from publishers and at least in TheNL there are funds who pay authors each time a book is lend.

    Although I agree that copyrightlaws are outdated they are definitely not obsolete. I for one would never have been able to publish anything if there wasn't some sort of money coming back. You know, authors are just like other people... we also need to make a living. Without copyright guarantees the big publishing houses and record companies would only give out contracts to commercially attractive art. And in my world we would lose a *lot* if commerce would become the essence of art... *any* art.

    So *yay* for laptop stealing publishers!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are Google crooks?

    Sometimes I'm amazed at the responses this kind of thing brings. There is nothing good about Google digitising books they do not have copyright for or permission to copy. At a basic level it's theft; at another basic level it's violating the lawful rights of others. At the end of the day you're encouraging a huge corporation to make a huge amount of money, through advertising, on works they do not have any ownership of whilst paying authors precisely nothing.

    As for nothing "physical" being stolen I am just amazed anyone takes this line of argument seriously. If you're saying that the only crimes are physical things that can be stolen you're saying that the whole history of ideas, thoughts and philosophies are worthless when we all know it's ideas that change the world and not things. It shows an astonishing lack of respect for the entire history of scholarly literature.

    There is also absolutely no analogy with a public library. First, libraries work in the public interest and Google do not. Google exist to make money. Second, all books, if they still under copyright, receive a royalty rate depending on how many times the books are borrowed. Public libraries have also had a close relationship both with publishers and authors.

    Also, if you're going to go into a typo and spelling-error riddled rant, please at least have your facts right. No one is asking for "ethernal rights" rights, whatever they are. Copyright allows for the author's lifetime plus 70 years. You seem to be ignoring any suggestion that when people create works they have rights over them, that they created and owned them and you don't actually have any rights over them at all. As for 5 years being a "resonanble" amount of time for IP to be protected you seem to have no understanding that most books take many years to make any money at all and at 5 years they simply wouldn't be worth commissioning in the first place.

    Support of intellectual carpetbaggers like Google is an obvious train-wreck in the making. Being supported by people that can barely spell or advance an articulate argument shows exactly who their audience is.

  10. Keiran

    Ever heard of mail merge

    Would it really be soooo dificult for the publishers to mailmerge the titles of all their (c) materials and between them deliver all of the mail on the same day (probably not via the postal system, lots of big vans and a media circus). I would think that Google would have to then suspend all scanning until they had processed all of the mail.

    For all future works all they would have to do is make sending this notice part of their publication pipeline.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Way too much power?

    So it's not theft if you don't actually steal a physical object, eh?

    If you write a novel, you are paid per number of sales you make. If Google then takes a copy of that novel and scans it and puts it up onto the internet for free access, you will not make so many sales. That will cost you money. You may not be losing a physical asset, but it's still real money which you need to pay your bills.

    The only thing copyright owners want is a reasonable return for the hard work they've put in - same as anyone else. Do you think Dickens would have bothered to write his novels if he wasn't going to get paid for it?

  12. Chris Matchett


    Is everyone confusing copying with theft? It would be the same thing not to take the laptop but to make a perfect copy of it and that's assuming that the laptop was something that was written down or art and not hardware which you can't copyright.

    The thing to do would be to stand next to the booth and parrot everything that the booth staff say until they can't take it anymore.

  13. Brian Wright


    I am not sure that there can be any problem with digitising a book - as an analogy think of transferring a work you own from Vinyl to CD - from an outdated old fashioned media to a new one. Surely the whole issue is how the digitised copy is handled. If royalties are paid (where appropriate) and local laws are followed is there then an issue? Surely it can only help authors with their meager incomes if another revenue stream was generated.

    So maybe stealing the laptops was an analogy for how the digitised copies are currently handled, but rather than through all the toys out of the pram and do something criminal to prove a point (although with no intention to permanently deprive I am not sure that it is theft), how much *serious* negotiation has taken place on alternatives. I suspect none, as the people that could negotiate en-masse for authors are their publishers, and it is the publishers that would be cut out of the loop by digital publication!

  14. N1AK

    It's not even about the money

    Although in a lot of cases money will be a motivating factor, the issue here isn't who's going to make money and who isn't.

    The issue is whether you as the creator of a work should have control over what is done with that work for some period of time (Copyright, which imho IS too long currently).

    If I write a book, why should google be able to duplicate it and offer a service that goes well beyond 'fair use' without my permission. If I create a website, why should google be able to archive it without my permission.

    Yes in both cases you could say google was bring me more page views / readers, but that IS NOT THE POINT, I didn't give them permission to, and that makes it just as wrong as me scanning a new book and putting it up on a filesharing network.

    Google is wrong on this one, and it shows how bullish they can be to get what they want.

  15. Joel

    What if....

    ....Google did an adwords deal with the authors who appeared on the pages they serverd? If the authors create their own web page and put up the text of their work, they might well look to having Google links on the side of their page to try and generate some revenue from their site.

    Google could do the same thing for each author that they display the scanned text for - this would be analogous to the small fees authors get when their books get borrowed from a library. So, the authors get the income without having to build their own web pages.

  16. Keith Turner

    I wonder . . .

    . . . .how many people posting comments on this subject have *.mp3 and *.cda files they've 'acquired' along the way.

    or how many have put together mix-tapes in the past?

  17. Paul

    It's a failure of communication

    Here we have two sides both in the business of communication, and all this seems to be caused by their failure to communicate. Google is not making books available free on the Internet (and would you read them online if they did?). They are showing extracts. This should be good for the authors / publishers as it is free exposure and makes people more likely to buy the books.

    So we have publishers protecting copyrights when this is against the best interests of themselves and their authors. Is this them being stupid, or Google wading in without proper consultation? Either way, we seem to be heading for the classic "everyone loses except the lawyers" scenario.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In copyright or not?

    I for one would be interested in knowing the numbers involved.

    How many books are being scanned?

    What are the percentages books that are out of copyright, of unknown copyright status or have valid copyright?

    Which books will be fully available online and how these relate to the above categories.

    Most of what I have heard related to either out of copyright works being available online or only small samples (fair use) of the books being used in which case if only a sample is available there is a possibility this being followed up with a sale or a library reading.

    The real problem relates to the unknown copyright status works. Publishers should be able to dump entire lists on Google for current and new works (Dumper trucks of paper is really just annoyance value, electronic lists with ISBNs would be more use ;) although if it has an ISBN it probably is still in copyright anyway)

    Here is an interesting question. Do authors get paid based on number of copies sold or printed? I guess it depends on individual deals.

    I have not tracked this closely enough so I may be wrong on all sorts of points.

    An interested alternate analogy would be lost property.

    What do you do with lost property? Do you keep it for ever until claimed or do you dispose of it after a time?

    If the owner knows that you have there lost property but does not claim it what do you do? What is you legal position if you were to have a well known policy and then dispose of it a year later?

    Just a few thoughts

  19. Hate2Register

    Google for Crims

    Google should be allowed to get on with scanning books that have had their copyright lapse or opened to the public domain. But authors who retain copyright don't want to wake up and find their recent works available for nothing on-line. I would suggest that users could choose 6 pages to browse of a copyrighted book. Then it's essentially a marketing bonus.

    And finally, when will we see a google PeopleSearch, and CreditSearch. Those of us wishing to find a missing human rights activist, or those wanting to break the legs of a bad debtor, would then find Google indespensible. It seems you can take Google from the geek, but you can't take the geek out of Google.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...just a big old bookshop

    aha - so the time has come when the publishing industry has to defend its dubious title. I can't really see what the difference is in going into a bookshop and flicking through a few pages to see if you like it, make a choice to buy it (or not) and move on to the next one. I don't think this is about technology, or lost sales, it comes down to someone else making money when they are not.

    We are not actually talking about copyright here; we are talking about publishing rights. Very few Publishers own the copyright to a story, but they own the publishing rights, therefore all Google needs to do is contact the author and get their permission (a bit of commission on search results should sort this out). This helps tackle the biggest issue to an author "obscurity", but obviously scares the publisher as they perceive it as lost revenue.

    Most books forbid the storage of a book in any retrieval system, so yes, this rule is broken, but enforceable?

    Also the library issue is not that relevant, as the payment to the publisher (not author) is severely capped per year, so an author is not ever going to get rich from library commission.

    I think this is a big wake up call to the publishing industry on both sides of the Atlantic and everywhere in between, I have seen the arrogance at play and I hope they don't go down the same route of the RIAA as this will inevitably do the publishing industry more harm than good.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google is Evil

    Ok, so they think it's ok to take copywritten content without permission.

    Ironically enough, if someone then gained acces to Googles servers and then removed the same information, it would be theft (and many other crimes).

    How about a trade off:

    For every book they ilegally copy, then they should give the authour a copy of their search algorithyms. Then the autors could pass this onto anyone they want, after all, it's not a physical item is it?


  22. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    Finally !

    I get a chance to write from 'the other side of the fence'.

    My mother has been writing for years, probably about a decade since she started on the first book. I can tell you that anyone who thinks writing is a way to get rich is seriously deluded - JK Rowlings are few and far between, most writers will never get published at all unless they do it themselves, and of those that do get published, they won't make much from it.

    Maybe some people can sit down and bang out a crappy paperback in a few weeks or months, but most good books take years to write. Getting a deal with a publisher, even getting a publisher to read your manuscript, is a long hard slog accompanied by a large pile of rejection letters.

    Once you got the text right, getting from that to a printed book takes more time and effort - we've printed several small books ourselves, each one takes time to set up 'just right', then the cover needs doing, and when it's printed you've still got the hard job of getting people to sell them.

    Plug :

    Whilst it's unlikely that Google would even have any of 'our' books for the simple reason that there weren't that many printed, we would be 'most displeased' if anyone were to scan them and put them up on the net. To do so would effectively eliminate any possibility of recouping anything from the huge investment of time and efforts that went into them.

  23. Stu

    Got it wrong

    Google is not going to allow these copyrighted works to be downloadable.

    Google is creating an index for seaching. If one of you whingeing writers has written a book about Dolphins then a reference to your book information and a small sample will be displayed when someone uses that search criteria.

    This will allow that person to be able to find the book they want to buy/borrow.

    The big problem that publishers have with this is they are getting no financial remuneration for the scanning/indexing that Google is doing. They think Google will make pots of money from this worthy endevour and they want a piece of the action.

    It goes without saying that the hardworking and mostly underpaid authors will not profit from this even if the publishers were able to extract some kind of payback.

  24. Rachel

    Confused?? Chris Matchett??

    Ok, I read your post, and to me it seems a bit unclear.

    Are you saying that people are off-based by comparing copying to theft and that it is a wrong analogy by saying hardware cannot be copied.

    Hardware can be copied and it is a patent theft to do so. So the analogy fits. If I go and make an Ipod copy all the hardware and then start panning it out as my product, then of course I'll be sued and accused of stealing a product.

    Now thats a little different from this instance, but still, if you put it say, in terms of software, if I make a copy of a piece of retail software and then put it online for anyone to download, then its called warez and yes, its illegal. Its pretty much the same thing.

    Overall, its a good analogy.

  25. Chris

    Re: Therefore all Google needs to do is contact the author and get their permission

    Well yeah, That is, in fact, the entire problem. Google is saying that getting in contact with anyone is just too much hassle for them. As said above, orphaned works are a problem - but that's why it should be done in stages, out-of-copyright first. The existence of some orphaned works doesn't mean that all works should be treated as such. Even if it was beneficial to people other than Google (big if), the precedent of allowing people to make copyright opt-in instead of opt-out is dangerous. I mean, for goodness sake, if Google can do it then anyone can. Even Microsoft chiz.

    Also, although publishers rarely own copyright (but see below) when authors give publishers the publishing rights it also often includes digital rights which makes the publishers the people to contact. Double also, PLR goes straight to the author, in the UK at least. Triple also - please people, don't assume that books = fiction. Publishing is a lot bigger than that.

    "Here is an interesting question. Do authors get paid based on number of copies sold or printed? I guess it depends on individual deals."

    It's been a while since I had to do contracts but... Typically you might get an advance first and then royalties based on sales once that advance is passed, with varying rates of royalty at different stages of sales (ie 10% for first 10,000, 6% afterwards). Otherwise you might just get a straight fee. Copies printed don't often come into it. But - and this is one of publishing's relatively unique issues - publishing has a much more generous returns policy than other industries for unsold stock.

  26. Eduard Coli

    DO EVIL!

    The problem here is that Google WILL profit through advertising from another's work without compensating that works owner/author.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Copyright is NOT ownership

    (At least not in the US)

    Copyright is exactly what it says: The *right* to make copies. When you produce an original work, you are given a LIMITED term of control over publication of that work. After that it falls into the Public Domain, meaning anyone can make copies or use it in any way they see fit. (Well it is *supposed* to work that way, Disney et al not withstanding.)

    Where exactly is the ownership in there?

  28. Sig FPE


    Copying a book that is in digital form takes no raw materials aside from recycled electrons. Copying a laptop requires raw physical material to be moulded. Duplication is not cost free, and therefore you are depriving someone of the fruits of their ration book and by extension actual rations if you remove their laptop from their possession. That is theft.

    If you duplicate digital material, you have two identical copies, and another person's possession has not been affected.

    That is why the book/laptop analogy is flawed. Patents are not the issue here, and are separate bargain with their own political history.

    Everyone is shouting past each other here, because the terms of the debate are highly emotive, and wholly inaccurate.

  29. heystoopid

    The old story

    the old story of the end justifies the means and the means justifies the ends!

    What price information?

    And as with all thieves , they should be tried , convicted , and jailed with a felony that it is!

    For who is stealing from whom? , for in this new age of information , should not all books held in all public and university libraries be available 24/7 to all users?

    Or as these wankers would have us believe , you must pay up front or it's no deal irrespective of the taxes you pay to support your local public library which is one of the publishing industries biggest reliable customers!

    What price is information indeed , with these men full of obsolete ideas and concepts ,they would have us travel back in time to before the age of the printing press?

  30. Vincent Clement

    Old Media and misunderstanding Google

    Eduard Coli said "The problem here is that Google WILL profit through advertising from another's work without compensating that works owner/author."

    Google is driving potential customers to sites where a published work can be purchased - and it's not costing the author/publisher one penny. Let's reverse your logic and Google dumps the ads and therefore makes no profit, but it demands that for every book sold via Google Book Search, it receives a percentage of the sale.

    As an author which would you rather have: Free marketing that has the potential to drive additional business to your book or pay Google for each book sold, thereby cutting into your profits?

    Simon Hobson: You are totally misunderstanding Google Book Search. While Google does scan the entire book, it only shows an extract - 3 or 4 pages of the book - (legitimate copyright holders have the ability to remove the extract or show the entire book) and then links to various book retailers.

    FYI, Google does a list a few of your books - they even have a link to your website. Google is willing to provide a way to drive potential customers to your book at no cost to you. How can any sane person be opposed to free marketing?

  31. Keith Langmead


    A few people have commented about Google having the right to use sections of peoples books under fair use terms, the same as how you can copy sections of a book in a library, but the comparison doesn't work.

    Within a library the use is for non-commercial / research purposes, and as such comes under the terms of 'fair dealing', but what Google is doing it for profit, and therefore does not come under that same protection (at least in the UK). If they removed all advertising / revenue generating material from pages relating to copyright works then that would be fine, but I can't see them doing that!

    Also who decides which pages to make available? If you're going to advertise your book you would obviously show people a section which best sold the book, without giving away anything which would spoil the entire book, but what's to say that the section chosen is either a dull part, therefore loosing sales because people assume the entire book it like that, or a critical part of the plot "the butler did it", which again would be damaging for anyone trying to sell their work?

  32. Zulon

    Raiders of the Lost Bookmark...

    This is a completely new trend in the Publishers v/s Google battle... now for every page of copyrighted material that Google makes available for "our" collective reading pleasure, the companies will pinch a server? from the google server farm? What about dead authors? Will they pinch defunct servers / Win98 laptops? There is scope for a parallel economy here!

  33. Tony Cossey

    Go towards the light

    Not morphing into googlesoft are they ? Nah....actually Microsoft would have the patent for 'books'.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Borrow That Computer

    Maybe Charkin's act is more comparable to Google's Library Project than he intended ("With our heist, we were merely doing to Google what they're doing to us"). He didn't really swipe a couple of computers from Google's booth at the trade show. He more "borrowed" than "stole" them.

    He hung around the booth until the Google reps came back and not only immediately gave them back but also confessed to his "crime" by shouting it from the virtual rooftops -- his blog -- and gave a bunch of interviews about it. He may argue that there was "no sign saying 'please do not steal the computers,'" but he clearly knew that what he did would garner him publicity, accolades and gratitude from his authors, not jail time or fines.

    It is pretty cool that the CEO of a big corporate book publisher would show the kind of creativity he displayed, but his act was hardly anarchic. There was no harm and thus no foul. One company (Macmillan) presumably made some money and generated some marketing buzz by trading on the assets of another (Google), and the rest of us were provoked into thinking a little bit and got a little psychic joy from the stunt. Maybe that's what Google's doing too?

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