NEW YORK -- A lawsuit by the Authors Guild and sundry others against Google provokes some thought in me on writing, publishing, the Internet and this wondrous thing called Google. The lawsuit alleges that vast copyright infringement is about to be perpetrated by Google. This $90 billion search engine is about to increase its business by scanning the entire contents of five of the world's leading libraries and making the contents of that vast scan searchable for free to anyone capable of gazing into a computer. The problem is that much of the printed material to be scanned by Google is copyrighted and ought not to be used without payment to publishers and authors. This strikes me as indisputable, but before reviewing the issues raised by the Authors Guild, allow me to bring up problems with the Internet that have troubled me for as long as I have used the Internet.
When I go to a library to borrow a book I can be pretty certain that the contents of the book have not been tampered with. When I buy a magazine I can be completely certain that I am getting a writer's work as it appeared in that magazine. Can I be equally certain when I take writing off the Internet that it has not been adulterated? Can I be sure of its authenticity? I doubt it.
This raises quite another point but one related to the question of the authority of what passes across the Internet. A lot of the information abounds with error, some of it difficult to discern. The representatives of old media who wail that the Internet suffers from a lack of editors have a point. I just have no idea of how to resolve their concerns consistent with sound libertarian principles -- but to return to the question of the authenticity of writing carried across the Internet.
The other day I was talking to a writer about an article of his that I read. The article in question I thought had been published in New York magazine. He told me it was from the New Yorker, a minor point of clarification, perhaps, but suggestive of the problem I am raising. As the pages had been printed from the Internet they did not have the New Yorker's distinctive type style. In fact, any other evidence that the piece came from one magazine or another could be faked. For that matter, even the contents of the piece could be faked. Someone sending me this piece across the Internet could be deceiving me in a way that someone delivering a magazine to me or even photocopied pages of a magazine could not.