How Google Book Search Got Lost
Scott Rosenberg

I’m grateful for all the thoughtful responses to my piece, and while I think it can stand on its own, I want to address two points.

(1) “Orphan works”: Several people wrote that they felt I oversimplified the legal issue here. Many of the experts I spoke to used this term to refer to the entire body of works that are out of print yet still under copyright. Others prefer a narrower definition — i.e., works that are out of print and under copyright where the owner of the copyright is unknown or can’t be located. While both definitions seem to be in play, I agree with my critics that the narrower one is more useful, and regret not limiting myself to it.

(2) Over on Twitter, Alex Macgillivray has argued that my piece fails to give Google Book Search its due, that it “dismisses the accomplishment” of the project and belittles the engineering work that goes on today. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the larger point. I wrote a whole book about the hard slog of software engineering, and certainly have no intention of disparaging this difficult and valuable work.

Alex wants the tech industry to “celebrate victories” and show more respect for “fine tuning and maintenance,” and I agree. But surely the celebration is on Google’s shoulders. The company could post a running counter of the number of books in the database, or provide users with regular updates on performance improvements, or just resurrect the Google Books blog to chronicle its wins. Instead, even now, after the cases have all ended, the work on Google Books remains a big secret. That’s, I think, a shame.

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