The Battle for the Books: Inside Google’s Gambit to Create the World’s Biggest Library
One crisp winter day in early 2010, the OJ Simpson of copyright trials was taking place in a federal courtroom 23 floors above lower Manhattan. The place was filled to capacity. More people sat in a nearby overflow room and yet more people stood gathered outside the doors, straining to hear the proceedings.
The cause of the fuss was Google. On this day, everyone from Microsoft to folk singers to the government of Germany was clamoring to warn the court about Google’s scheme to create the world’s biggest library. One after another they told Judge Denny Chin of digital dystopias that would take place if Google controlled the world’s books.
This was more than even Google had anticipated. What had once been a pet project of the company’s founders had metastasized into what one executive would later describe as “a Rorschach test” for people’s fears of the future.
Those fears probe a time not long off when books are replaced by computer servers and companies could replace librarians as the prime the curators of our knowledge.
Google did not start this upheaval but it will remain in the middle of it for a long time. Already, it has upended the publishing industry and bent the contours of copyright law. In doing so, Google also scanned everything from War and Peace to Watership Down, and built the world’s largest library.