Google: Start up those book scanners!

I just got an email from Google PR, saying the company has settled its long-running legal battle with publishers and authors over its ambitious book-scanning project, a settlement that was rumoured to be in the works for the past month or so. The project has been under a cloud since 2005, when the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild filed two class-action lawsuits alleging that scanning books without permission amounted to large-scale copyright infringement. The Web company said it would remove books from its index on request, but authors and publishers said this reverse-onus approach was unfair.

As part of the settlement, Google is paying $125-million to settle the legal claims, pay legal costs for the two groups, and — more importantly — will set up a new entity called the Book Rights Registry, which will be responsible for distributing payments that come from online access to books provided through Google (and through any similar programs created by other providers). The registry will also be responsible for locating rightsholders for old and out-of-print books, collecting and maintaining accurate info, and for providing a way for rightsholders to “request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.” In effect, Google is setting up a body that does what ASCAP and similar groups do for musicians.

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Linking isn’t defamation, judge says

Jon Newton, who runs the Canadian peer-to-peer news site p2pnet, says a British Columbia judge has ruled in his favour in a defamation lawsuit launched by a former Green Party official. This official argued that by linking to articles which he claimed were defamatory, p2pnet also engaged in defamation — and he sued half a dozen other websites for linking to the same material, and reportedly threatened to sue even more to force them to remove the links and references. According to B.C. Supreme Court judge Stephen Kelleher, however, linking by itself is not sufficient to make a case for defamation. Kelleher said:

“Without proof that persons other than the plaintiff visited the defendant’s website, clicked on the hyperlinks, and read the articles complained of, there cannot be a finding of publication.”

However, the judge added that:

“I do not wish to be misunderstood. It is not my decision that hyperlinking can never make a person liable for the contents of the remote site. For example, if Mr. Newton had written ‘the truth about Wayne Crookes is found here’ and ‘here’ is hyperlinked to the specific defamatory words, this might lead to a different conclusion.”

The legality of linking has been a thorny issue for some time, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. As this handy guide from the Chilling Effects website describes, linking to certain material — including that which infringes copyright — has been found to be illegal by the courts in the past. Google itself has been forced to remove certain links from its search results, including (in one case) links to sites where users could download copyright-infringing copies of the Kazaa Lite software. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a rundown on some cases as well.

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TV 2.0: Revision3 cancels some shows

Just found out via Adam Ostrow at Mashable that Revision3 — the Web TV venture from the Digg boys, Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson — has laid off several people and shut down the filming of a few shows, including Internet Superstar with Martin Sargent and PopSiren with Sarah Lane. Interestingly enough, the hosts of both shows used to work on G4 and TechTV, the shows that Kevin Rose got his start on as a fresh-faced young geek (okay, he’s still a fresh-faced young geek, but you get my point). Sarah Lane is also the director of production for Revision3, according to her bio. There have been other executive layoffs as well apparently.

In what has to be a bandwidth cost-related move, Revision3 is also stopping distribution of two shows, including social-media guru Gary Vaynerchuk’s popular Wine Library. In a blog post about the moves, CEO Jim Louderback says that PopSiren and Internet Superstar “had great promise, but never really found their audience.” The company is also stopping production of a long-running show called Pixel Perfect, which was apparently an instructional program about using Photoshop. Some of the shutdowns have predictably had spinoff effects, as Liz Gannes describes at NewTeeVee.

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Get Ana Marie Cox to report for you

Radar magazine has folded for the third time, this time apparently for good (although the website has been sold to AMI, which publishes The National Enquirer, and will become a competitor to TMZ and other celebrity sites). Among others, this has stranded Web journalism legend Ana Marie Cox, who was reporting on the U.S. election campaign for the magazine, so she is asking readers to support her directly in a bid to continue writing until the election is over (she still writes a blog for Time magazine as well).

Cox, who was the founding editor of Gawker’s Wonkette blog before moving to Time magazine — and has also written for Mother Jones magazine, as well as for Feed magazine and the godfather of all snarky blogs, — has set up a tiered approach to reporting that gives her sponsors a chance to participate in her reporting to some extent. It includes:

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Nick Carr: Still wrong on Google, Part 2

I came back from a weekend away to find that Nick Carr had picked a fight with Tim O’Reilly about Google, and whether the company’s size and market power has been a result of network effects. This argument was a sort of spin-off of an issue that came up earlier in the week, when Hugh McLeod pondered the topic of “cloud computing” and whether it could produce a giant monopoly. O’Reilly argued that it likely wouldn’t, because it doesn’t benefit from network effects in the same way that Google does.

Nick took issue with this line of argument, asking:

“Is the network effect really the main engine fueling Google’s dominance of the search market? I would argue that it certainly is not.”

In fact, he says categorically that Google’s rise to dominance has “nothing to do with the network effect.”

I don’t know why a smart guy like Nick would make an argument like that, but I think he’s totally wrong. Let’s review what the network effect means: As Tim describes it, it refers to systems that “get better the more people use them,” which is a pretty good paraphrasing of the Wikipedia definition as well as other definitions you can find in various places. The classic example used is the telephone, which becomes more useful the more people use it.

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Memo to newspaper bloggers: Be human

Some good, down-to-earth advice from Matt Sokoloff at Lost Remote about how newspaper bloggers should approach what they do, including:

1. Have a voice – The key isn’t about having a bias but rather being human. News affects people including yourself, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

2. Don’t just post wire stories.

3. Engage with your readers – Not only should you solicit comment but you should also respond to them.

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AC/DC a blockbuster despite downloads

The legendary British Australian rock band AC/DC is one of the few holdouts when it comes to selling music through the iTunes record store, a stand the group has taken in part because it refuses to sell individual songs as singles — “We don’t make singles, we make albums,” says guitarist Angus Young — and Apple won’t let the band restrict its iTunes sales to just albums. That’s why its new album, Black Ice, is exclusively being sold through Wal-Mart stores, and it may also have something to do with the fact that the record has been topping the BitTorrent download charts as well.

According to TorrentFreak, just five days after the album was leaked on BitTorrent it had already been downloaded 400,000 times. Download-tracking firm Big Champagne said that in the first week it was available (the leak occurred on October 7, and the official release was on October 20) it was being downloaded about 100,000 times a day. If that rate continued — and there’s no reason to think that it hasn’t — then the album was downloaded more than a million times before it went on sale.

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Godin and Peters: Blogs are best thing ever

As usual, I can’t remember where I came across this one (if it was in your feed, let me know and I will send a virtual shout-out), but it’s a great clip of legendary management theorist Tom Peters and marketing guru Seth Godin (who looks a lot like a “house elf” from the Harry Potter movies, but maybe that’s just me) talking about the usefulness of blogs as part of a panel discussion at the Inc 5000 conference. I would have embedded the clip but there was no embed option available. So I took a minute and transcribed what they had to say. First up was Seth, who said:

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NYT: Revenue plummets, debt is junk

Is the New York Times running on fumes, as Henry Blodget says at Silicon Alley Insider? I would argue that it’s probably even worse than that. It’s not just running out of gas — it’s only firing on one or two cylinders, the points and plugs are shot and the coolant system is about to blow. In its most recent results, the newspaper company reported that its cash flow (earnings before interest, taxes, etc.) fell by more than 50 per cent, advertising revenues collapsed by double digits, and its debt has just been rated “below investment grade” — or what is known in the investment business as “junk” — by the Standard & Poor’s bond-rating agency.

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Theft, murder and virtual worlds

Two recent news items got me thinking about “virtual theft” and other crimes that either take place inside virtual worlds or involve virtual goods. I don’t know why exactly, but this kind of thing fascinates me. Maybe it’s because it’s another example of online behaviour clashing with real-world laws and principles, much like music or movie downloading is. The two stories involve a woman who was jailed in Tokyo for “killing” her virtual husband, and two Dutch teens who were convicted of stealing a Runescape amulet and mask from a fellow teen. These aren’t the only such cases, of course: a Dutch teenager was arrested last year for stealing $6,000 worth of furniture from the online kids’ game/world called Habbo Hotel.

Does it make sense to charge people for “crimes” that are committed inside virtual worlds? Mike Masnick at Techdirt argues that it doesn’t really, and that the Dutch kids who “stole” the Runescape amulet and mask from another teen at knifepoint should properly have been charged with assault rather than theft. The Dutch court, however, argues that virtual goods are just as worthy of protection as real-world goods, and so theft is the proper charge. This is an issue that some have been thinking about for awhile now, and one Wagner James Au has argued should be a concern for plenty of Web 2.0 companies as well, since they effectively deal in “virtual goods” such as reputation, etc. and user-generated content.

The fascinating thing with virtual theft and other “crimes,” of course, is that there are so many different ways of stealing money and property and engaging in all sorts of other bad behaviour inside Second Life or some other virtual world. You can hack the game to generate money or credits, you can run scripts that copy artefacts and property (which you can then sell inside the game), and you can sell the money you got illegally to noobs and then virtually mug them to take it back inside the game. The possibilities are endless. Should they all be real-world crimes too?