AP Scans Sarah Palin Book Without Permission; Look Out Google Book Search

Google, accused by some as being a book thief, now has company — the Associated Press. The AP patted itself on the back in an internal memo that detailed how it scanned a copy of Sarah Palin’s book without permission, to make it searchable.

The irony is rich. The AP hasn’t taken a stance against Google Book Search that I know of, on whether it considers the project to violate fair use or not. But the AP has been pretty clear that it views the use of story headlines and summaries by Google and others to go beyond fair use.

So scanning an entire book, without express permission? Seems like that would go well beyond the AP’s view of fair use, as well.

The Talking Points Memo has a copy of the AP internal memo, which details what happened:

They bought a copy, ripped it from its spine and scanned it into the system so it could be read and electronically searched.

This is the core of what Google Book Search does, except it doesn’t have to rip books from their spine. But it does scan books into its system, so that it can be electronically searched. If the copyright owner hasn’t given permission, it cannot be read. (See my Search Engines, Permissions & Moving Forward In Copyright Battles post for more about the issues involved).

Ah, but Google does it for profit. The AP did it for journalism.

Well, journalism is a commercial use as well. AP members carrying those reports made money off of the ads. And Palin could argue that AP, by cherry-picking out of her book before the AP was given a review copy and permission, has leeched off her content and devalued the news value in it in the same way the AP complains others do to its stories. Folks pushing that “hot news” laws need to be updated, take note of a news case study, how the AP dealt with Palin’s book.

Meanwhile out in Connecticut, the bloggers-ripoff-newspapers story takes a new twist. Actually, an old one — newspapers accused of ripping off other newspapers. The Journal Inquirer has sued the Hartford Courant of plagiarism. Writes the New York Times:

Online, The Courant credited many if not all of the articles to the original newspapers, Richard P. Weinstein, The Journal Inquirer’s lawyer, said. But in print, the attribution was often dropped, and the byline of a Courant writer was added. The articles were rearranged and rewritten to some extent, but some phrases from the originals remained intact.

Postscript: David Weir has a comment from AP here, where it explains that the book (apparently only one was purchased) was scanned so that AP staffers in bureaus such as Washington and Alaska could read relevant sections, ending that it wasn’t scanned “for public consumption.”

To clarify against Google Book Search, the public cannot “consume” a scanned book, unless a rightsholder has given explicit permission for that book to be shown online. That’s the only way you can read extended passages or complete works, or, if a book is in the public domain. Otherwise, as best, all you see are small quotations from within the book that match your search term.

It sounds like the AP took the single book and made it possible for multiple people to read extended sections, if not the entire thing, within the organization. Whether it’s fair use to reprint a book like this because your a journalism organization is beyond my knowledge.


  1. says

    While it’s amusing because the AP is fighting others copying it’s work, is this really that wrong.

    OK yes technically blah blah not be copied and all that jazz but, if someone copies a magazine article and shares it with people internally only are we really breaking the spirit of the law. If it stays behind the wall I don’t have much problem with it, bragging about it in public is stupid, but is it wrong … I don’t think so.

  2. says

    I didn’t say it was wrong. I’m simply pointing out that Google gets dinged by many in the book world as a copyright infringer for scanning books to make them searchable, which is a far different thing than actually reprinting those books. And here’s the AP scanning a book for precisely the same reasons Google does it, so that people can locate information within them quickly.

    Google does it both because there’s a business model behind it and for the public good. So does the AP, a business reason to scan it (check out our awesome story) and the public good in reporting on it.

    The difference is that if you or I want to analyze a book, you’ve got portions of a publishing industry that has attacked a tool allowing us to do so.

    I think it also highlights the tricky issues with fair use. I suspect that what the AP did, they feel is fair use. But that organization hasn’t seemed particularly open-minded to what others claim to be fair-use.

  3. says

    Actually, it would be a copyright violation since more than one person has access to it at the same time, without them having purchased enough copies of the book to cover that use. It also violates the reproduction without permission by means of electronic storage & retrieval/database clauses.

  4. Frances Grimble says

    Uh actually, aside from the fact that Google scanned MILLIONS of copyrighted books, Google is most emphatically going into the business of selling both e-books and print-on-demand books. As anyone who knows anything about the proposed Google/Author’s Guild Settlement should know; both versions 1 and 2 are basically very long contracts for Google to sell ENTIRE BOOKS. Then, there are all those public announcements about Google Editions, the new Google publishing project . . .

  5. Ankhorite says

    AP didn’t do anything wrong. They bought a copy, and they can do what they please with it, including scanning it FOR THEIR OWN USE ONLY. They can’t publish the scans, but making them is no crime, nor a copyright violation.