As well-informed netizens, most of my readership is probably aware that

Google wants to add the full text of books to their search

indexes so that Web surfers can identify works using mere quotations

or character names. The utility of the project is obvious, though the

copyright implications are numerous and complex.

To sort it out, a standard called COCOA

(Copyright Owners’ Control Of Access) has been proposed, which would

let authors specify if, when, and which portions of their works could

be included in the index. Not surprisingly, a couple of respected and

tech-savvy sci-fi scribes have weighed in on the debate, only taking

opposite sides.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing has slammed COCOA,

holding to his line that the Google index falls under fair use of

copyrighted works, as only one- or two-sentence excerpts will be

surfaced to the user. This presumes that Google is hack-proof, or is at

least willing to compensate authors should they be denied sales due to

a massive pirating of copyrighted works that they have digitized.

Conversely, Charles Stross has come out provisionally in favor of COCOA

in his blog, or at least the idea behind it, arguing that authors can

and should ultimately retain control of the media under which their

works are republished. (Google, incidentally, is trying to wrangle

deals with publishers, who, while having raised the largest “lost

sales” hackles against the indexing effort, don’t actually control the

copyrights they are trying to “protect”).

Being someone who tends to default to the “information should be free”

argument–a premise that is argued for wonderfully and wildly in

Stross’ novel Singularity Sky–I

guess I’m with Doctorow on this one, but Stross has a point. Authors

are the ones with a dog in this fight.

Postscript–About half an hour after I wrote this entry, sci-fi scribe John Scalzi wrote a very similiar blog post.

His has the added benefits of him being tangetially related to the

development fo COCOA, him being a published science fiction author, and

him being way smarter and more successful than me. Go read his take for

the–whatcha call it–quality.