Robert Darnton is a fool
This is about the proposed Google settlement. Darnton is upset that the tremendous repository of out-of-print (but in copyright) material being scanned by Google will not be made available free to all comers. Google is proposing to have one free-access terminal in every library, but that isn’t good enough for Darnton. He thinks there should be unlimited free access.
Let’s think about this a moment. We’re talking about books that some library somewhere bought a single copy of. Google, upon scanning these books, is enabling (in theory) simultaneous free access to that book by one person in every library in the United States. This is already an outrage from the point of view of the publisher and author of that out-of-print work, because if every library in the country had bought a copy of the book in the first place, the book would have been a financial success and might still be in print.
But on top of the very real injury of giving free access to every library, Darnton is proposing the additional insult that everyone everywhere ought to have free access. He further asserts that this is somehow in keeping with some great foundational principle of our nation. The Founding Fathers, though, had another idea. They thought that creators ought to be compensated as an incentive to further creation and invention. And so they created copyright and patent rights. Darnton seems to think that creators will keep on writing books with no hope of ever being paid for their work. Why would they do that? Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
No, the Google settlement is already bad enough. We don’t need fools like Darnton lobbying to make it even worse.