Over the past while, Fintan O’Toole has written at least twice in the Irish Times about what Google is up to with the world’s literature. It seems that Google has scanned somewhere over 1 million books, with a devil-may-care attitude towards the copyright issues involved. Now – again according to my memory of what O’Toole has written – Google is sorting out in the American courts what it’s entitled to do with the scans; the upshot is likely to be that Google will be granted some sort of copyright-sharing arrangement with publishers. And many of the actual copyright holders – the writers, in a lot of cases, or non-US publishers – can fall in line or lump it; in fact, they can fall in line and lump it.
It seems Google is out to gather just about any bit of information that’s out there. We all use Google. Anyone with a website wants to be noticed by it. I’m even tempted to put a name like Louise Bourgeois into this paragraph, because I know it will draw Google’s attention. I have an image of a great ship slowly turning its mass in my direction, towards those two words, the metal plates of the hull straining and groaning as the ship reorients. In reality, Google functions more like a neural network – the well-worn paths get reinforced, the others flicker from time to time.
What I’m wondering is this: if Google is as casual as O’Toole says it is about other people’s written intellectual property, how long before visual imagery, all of art, gets swept into the Google maw?