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Darnton on Google

By Op-Ed Editor | February 5, 2009

There’s been much linking-to of Robert Darnton’s essay Google and the Future of Books in the New York Review of Books

He does give much information and much to ponder, but it all seems suffused with what might be called the Librarian’s Fallacy: that access that is not free (as in unpaid) is access denied. And the fears about some particularly dangerous Google monopoly seems Chicken-Littlish. Digital technology has indeed been a tremendous creator of near-monopolies, but technology has a way of overcoming them too. Two words: WordPerfect 4.2 (How many words is that?). Remember all the litigation over Internet Explorer’s monopoly? IE certainly killed Netscape Navigator, but now Firefox and the others seem perfectly capable of replacing IE should users be inclined to change.

The root fear of this article seems to be of new evidence of how flexible copyright actually is, how it can adapt to new technologies and situations, how respect for creators’ rights can actually coexist with digital technology without the sky falling.

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