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October 24, 2003

Out of all them bright texts. As widely noted all over the net, Amazon has made it possible to search the interior text of over 120,000 in-print, in-copyright books in their catalog. You have to be logged in with an Amazon user account to do it. Search results arrive in the form of an image of the actual book page, complete with page numbers and running heads; you can read a little ways forward and backward, and there are (reasonably generous) limits to how much of any book you can retrieve, and how many pages overall you can summon up in a certain amout of time.

Via BoingBoing, here’s a Wired article about the Amazon project. I have a feeling this is one of those online tools whose second- and third-order effects will only be discovered in practice. Five years from now it will be obvious that Amazon’s full-text search feature would of course lead to 2008’s boom in Restoration drama, or the state of Minnesota buying all of its residents pogo sticks. [09:11 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Out of all them bright texts.:

JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 10:18 AM:

I already came across a second-order effect of this. A post on slashdot discussed how a researcher used the tool to look for instances of his research and found several books where his research was discussed without attribution, so his lawyer is writing letters.

So, lawsuits. I mean, I assumed it would be the subject of lawsuits, but not a tool for them...

Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 10:51 AM:

The text search capability was one of the most popular functions of the late lamented BiblioBytes, and we had under a thousand books to work with. It's going to be wildly popular with 120,000 titles.

beth ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 11:52 AM:

Not to mention the broad new horizons for ego-scanning.


Mark Bourne ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 12:08 PM:

> Not to mention the broad new horizons for ego-scanning.

Which is, natch, one of the first things I did with it. It picked out a couple of Honorable Mentions in Gardner Dozois's YBSF, plus a ref I'd never seen before -- an anthology titled The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures that on page 515 refers to the Resnick/Greenberg antho Sherlock Holmes in Orbit with the line: "It includes the excellent story 'The Case of the Detective's Smile' by Mark Bourne which is so delightful that it ought to be true."

So because of this nifty new tool, I purchased The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures. Which is, I believe, the point of it all.

(OTOH, my ebook collection Mars Dust & Magic Shows, which I'd assumed would be easier to "scan", doesn't come up at all.)

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 01:12 PM:

I'm always looking up things in the online bookstores for fact-checking purposes, as well as onlines texts when I can find them. Sometimes one can only find the information by flippinf through the actual book. For example, the other day I needed to know the spelling of Francis Dolarhyde, the serial killer--or, I should say, one of the serial killers--in Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. Well, you might say, you could look up the character name on imdb--but do so and you'll find 2 different spellings in the 2 movies that've been made of the book. No, only the actual book will do in this case. Fortunately, I happened to have a copy. But if I hadn't...

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 02:09 PM:

All I know is that being quoted makes it that much more likely that someone will pick your book up if they have a chance, so I'm delighted by the idea that there is an increased chance for cross-fertilization by people who are two lazy to type a few paragraphs. Just aside from the fact that it makes it easier for me to reference, say, p345 to the top of p346 of American Gods (Headline pb) if I wanted to....

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 05:49 PM:

School papers with actual book references w/out leaving your chair: that's my immediate prediction.

(I personally rely heavily on Amazon when writing, say, story notes for 60 authors in a row. The chances of my being familiar with the contents of the past 4 books of all 60 are slim.)

Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 08:00 PM:

RE: Pogo Sticks for the state of Minnesota,
Mary Kay says you are a very silly man.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 11:45 PM:

Or ego death.


Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 12:36 AM:

Minnesota onna stick? Minneapolis (hop) in '73 (hop)!

Seriously, though, although I haven't used this myself yet, someone on the Stumpers e-mail list -- a librarian, like most of us on that list -- "tried it for a couple of recent questions... as a test and was very disappointed. On these searches and the normal searches I do as part of book selection, I am now coming up with hundreds of totally irrelevant titles. In fact, yesterday I tried all sorts of different combinations of" terms relating to a question that was on the list, "(leaving out one word or another) and no matter what I did I kept coming up with the exact same number of hits. Weird!"

She also notes,"There doesn't seem to be any way to turn the feature off, either."

And on the LISNews blog, there's a thread dealing with such issues as "why we can't do this in libary [sic] catalogs" (basically: money. Publishers hope the exposure on Amazon leads to sales, not library-borrowing).

The original poster on this thread adds, "It looks like they try to limit you to browsing two pages of text." Which means you get a little bit of a lot of books, but not the whole of any of them. Which wouldn't stop some students from trying to use it the way Kathryn describes, I'm sure!

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 03:26 AM:

Ego confusion here

10 for my full name, lots more (many, but not all, mine) with my middle name dropped out.

But I did find that one of my stories got an honorable mention in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for 1996, which I hadn't known about.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 09:40 AM:

They need to sharpen it up a bit, it needs an "advanced search" feature like Google so you can search on an unbroken phrase. It's actually made Amazon as Amazon less useful than it was for looking for books by people with unweird names -- if you search on "Tim Powers" you used to get a list of Tim Powers's novels, now you get every book in the universe that has the words "tim" and "powers", _A Christmas Carol_ included.

However, like other people in this thread I discovered an honourable mention in a Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, for a poem that I had on Dark Planet, years ago. You'd think someone would have told me.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 12:22 PM:

It's a dumb, brute force string search. The only help it will give is if you want to look up, using exact spelling, a relatively uncommon phrase; and if said phrase is uncommon enough to give you a small enough result set to be comprehensible on a 10-item per page screen display downloaded over a phone line connection. For example, looking up "Nielsen Hayden" gives 100 entries and I don't think even Patrick and Teresa's mothers would have enough patience to scroll through the entire list.

Amazon has a lot of work to do, requiring professional librarians and information retrieval CS specialists, before this search can produce anything close to meaningful. Jeff Bezos was a CS major at Princeton and he has to know this. But I guess they had to get something up now for the publicity value, or stock price, or something.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 01:35 PM:

With uncommon words, I've just discovered an interesting feature of the library: searching for a particular rare specialty word as a way to recommend authors you might like.

One of my favorite uncommon words is "ensorceled," so I did a search on it, and besides finding one of my books, I also found a list of a hundred, including George R.R. Martin, Katharine Kerr, Judy Tarr, Harry Turtledove, Marion Zimmer Bradley and so on. Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), I know or have met about half the authors on the list and have heard of most of the rest, with the exception of a few Conan and Dragonlance authors.

I think I'm going to try "ensorcelment," "dweomer" and "cantrip" to see what I catch.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 06:17 PM:

The Amazon system is a beta, complete with bugs, idiosychracies, and security holes. After about 90 minutes of playing with it, I'm convinced they had at least one more phase of product development before they should have let it out of the bottle.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2003, 08:26 PM:

Kathryn: there is a lot of technology that doesn't work that way. As Patrick suggests, tech tends to be emergent rather than resultant(?) (cf the demonstration of aqua regia in The Computer Connection); what comes out depends as much on the imagination of the community it is exposed to as on the imagination of its inventors. This means that getting a sort-of beta out there, and getting people thinking about it, can be an important stage in getting attention for a new product (or a more-popularized take on an existing product -- my first computer job was making it easier to deal with various online search firms' formats; making such searches easier when connect time cost $50-100 (in 1980 dollars), so this looks like an old ]friend[). Sounds like they aren't even charging for it (does a user account cost money?), so putting it out and seeing how many people are interested can determine whether or not to do the additional development cycle.

The early word processors, CAD systems, etc. were Believe-It-Or-Not horrors by today's standards, but even at what they cost they made it clear that they were worthwhile tools.

And I like the idea of putting all of Minneapolis on a stick, considering that they put everything else on a stick....

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 06:18 AM:

I'm going to be a bit oblique here. But Amazon's "sort-of" beta has security holes that put them in violation with their agreement with the publishers providing the material. I'm not going to tell you what they are since as an anthologist I am charged with the responsibility to protect the copyright of the works I reprint, but I predict that Amazon's legal department will be very busy Monday.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 06:19 AM:

This is not to say that I'm not having as much fun as the next person with the full text searching.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 07:35 AM:

Seen on Slashdot: The Author's Guild is not entirely happy with this: :

"We've reviewed the contracts of major trade publishers and concluded that these publishers do not have the right to participate in this program without their authors' permission. We wrote to these publishers after we learned about the program in July. Most argued with our interpretation of their contract (no surprise there), but some have said that they would remove a work from the program if the author insisted.

"Whether your works should be in the program is hard to say. This program will likely prove to be useful in promoting certain titles. Midlist and backlist books that are receiving little attention, for example, may benefit from additional exposure in searches. For other titles, the program may erode sales. Most reference books would be at clear risk in such a database. So would many (if not most) travel books and cookbooks. Most fiction titles are not likely to be greatly threatened."

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 12:23 PM:

I can see the point with the reference and cookbooks, but I think the end result will be no different than what happens with browsing bookstores and checking the reference shelf at the library: people will note down things they like, including titles, and eventually buy books that they consider indispensable.

I read an entertaining entry in a book of haunted sites yesterday on Amazon, but it's really no different than me reading the same in a bookstore, then deciding not to buy the book because I already had a similar one on the shelf.

There will likely be students citing references for papers, but students generally don't buy copies of reference books in the library either, though will certainly be more tempted to with Amazon's convenient "buy me!" links.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 02:39 PM:

There are simple ways to hack it which are very different from wreading a book in a book store.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 02:51 PM:

(wreading should read reading)

Understand that I am not opposed to what Amazon thinks they put up on the web. They did a slap-dash job that has a number of problems including legal ones.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 02:53 PM:

My link doesn't replicate. Search Amazon books on "prpblems" to get the link I intended.

Isabeau ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 09:52 PM:

One tiny correction: It92s not enough to be 93logged in with an Amazon user account94, you have to be logged in with an account that has a valid credit card number associated with it. I have two user names, one with my real info and another with my nom d92Internet, which I use for reviewing books. When I try to log on under my assumed name, I92m asked to add a credit card and mailing address. The page says,

By publishers92 agreement, we are pleased to offer Amazon.com customers with a valid credit card the ability to view copyrighted pages.

This makes me just a wee trifle suspicious. Are they planning on billing us for royalties? (Just to make things clear: royalties—good, unexpected charges on credit card—bad.)

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 10:15 PM:

I think the logic is more: People with credit cards use them to buy things.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 11:10 PM:


This was discussed on public radio's Marketplace today--nothing we hadn't read here, though.

Kevin, Isabeau,

I suspect it's a quick-and-dirty way of enforcing the twenty-percent per month per reader limit.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:45 AM:

I have blogged the copyright issues I alluded to above.

Isabeau ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 10:33 PM:

"[T]he twenty-percent per month per reader limit"? This baffles me. Please explain.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 06:55 AM:

"[T]he twenty-percent per month per reader limit"? This baffles me. Please explain.

Amazon's attempt at dealing with the copyright problems of their system is to allow users to access no more than 20 percent of the pages of a given book within a one month period.

This is, however, no finely grained enough to provide copyright prtoection for compilations, since most separately copyrighted works within a collection or anthology take up less than 20 percent of the page space.

Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:12 AM:

Amazon's attempt at dealing with the copyright problems of their system is to allow users to access no more than 20 percent of the pages of a given book within a one month period.

[sarcasm] Oh. I see. There are no groups of five people with Amazon accounts who are willing to compile all the pages of any given book. Good thinking, guys.[/sarcasm]

Full text searching is a wonderful idea, but it really needed some thinking through before being implemented, IMO. I wonder whether micropayments for pages searched (5% or 10% of normal cost, prorated for book length) wouldn't be a good idea, but only if you could easily turn off the full text search. AND with a highly noticeable, upfront explanation of the cost. I wouldn't want to do a text search on ten or twelve different sources (compiling a hundred pages, say) and suddenly find a credit card hit I didn't expect.

This post and its comments deal with the problem of focusing a search so as not to get inundated with excerpts. I haven't tried it yet, but comment #6 details a way of getting past said "feature." (But it ought not to be necessary to jump through hoops for a simple search.)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 02:30 PM:

Or even individual people with five credit cards.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 04:26 PM:

Requiring a valid credit card is a big barrier to pirating books. It's not a perfect barrier, but it's a good-sized speed bump.

Music got pirated because it was dead easy to do it. It's a few short steps from popping a CD into a PC to give it a listen, to ripping the CD for personal use in an MP3 player, to making songs available for sharing in Napster. We're not going to see any significant book piracy (beyond what already exists) until e-books become more popular AND as easy to rip as CDs have been.

(Indeed, I think that e-books will lead to an explosion in moneymaking for publishing. The smart publishers will distribute e-books using filesharing mechanisms, with free sample chapters and the rest encrypted, including a built-in mechanism to decrypt the text after paying the publisher for the decryption key. "But," you say, "Mitch, you fool, the knavish hackers will find a way to thwart the decryption!" To which I respond: Of course they will. The decryption doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be GOOD ENOUGH, so that it's easier for the reader to buy a legal copy than a bootleg one. If the music distributors had thought of this, the world would be a little bit nicer place today.)

I can think of a relatively simple way to rig Amazon search to download entire books and copy them. But, you know, it's a hell of a lot easier to just go BUY the darn thing. It's not like publishers are making books hard to buy.

I'm sure the search-inside-the-book feature will result in some theft, but it'll result in MORE sales. That's not to say that authors shouldn't stick it to their publishers to get some more money upfront for search-inside-the-book rights. I'm all in favor of writers negotiating aggressively with their publishers.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 08:15 AM:

some theft, but it'll result in MORE sales

But Mitch, as an anthologist, I don't have the contractual right to authorize "some theft" of whole short stories I reprint in order to general more sales for my book. I do pay royalties, but I don't get to decide the tradeoff on behalf of someone else.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 08:58 AM:

general should read generate

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 03:38 PM:

Kathryn - Any distribution method is going to result in some theft. Retail stores have a certain amount of shoplifting. They know how much to expect, they figure it in as a cost of doing business, same as light bulbs and toilet paper.

Theft due to search-inside-the-book is exactly the same thing.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 04:48 PM:

Mitch, there are 2 differences:

1. Shoplifting is linear, copying is non-linear. That is, every shoplifted book causes a loss of approximately one sale; each stolen online copy results in an unknown number of lost sales, somewhere between 0 and all of them.

2. Shoplifting has been going on for a long time, and so existing contracts (between authors, anthologists, and publishers, and between publishers and various stages of the distribution pipeline) were written with an awareness of shoplifting. Search-within-the-book is new, and so many existing contracts don't clearly specify what is allowed and what isn't. I suspect many contracts specify that distribution via an existing medium (i.e. combining in an anthology, printing on paper and binding) is permitted, and all other rights are reserved to the author.

In the long run, it's probably not be a big deal; some percentage of sales will be lost to search-within-the-book hacking, just as potential sales might be lost to bookstore browsers, library patrons, xeroxers, and shoplifters (not that I'm equating them!). From now on, contracts will be written with an awareness of search-within-the-book.

But Kathryn's point is that she didn't give Amazon permission to distribute her works this way, and in fact that permission isn't hers to give. She could be sued by an author if she doesn't try to stop Amazon.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 05:11 PM:

Anyone can sue anyone. Merit has very little to do with it.

Amazon's defense? With current technology, anyone who wants to can walk into a bookstore, pick up a book, surreptitiously use their camera-phone to photograph the pages, run an OCR program, and have themselves an ebook, which they can even reprint and rebind if they feel like having a dead-tree copy.

Goosing and tweaking search-in-the-book, collating the pages (all of which are individual pdfs) and so on, to make a reasonable ebook? Just about the same trouble.

No one in their right mind is going to do either to pirate a book, and anyone who is going to do book piracy is going go for the simple expedient of buying a single electronic copy and printing from that, or if not available electronicly, getting a print copy and doing the scan and ocr trick.

Since authors for centuries have given bookstores the right to display copies and allow prospective buyers to browse the contents, allowing an electronic bookstore to allow electronic browsing is really no different.

Besides which, Amazon has had the "First X pages" feature for a couple years now and I've seen no complaints about that.

Very few people will goose Amazon to read an entire book online, the same way that very few people go to Barnes and Noble every day on their lunch break and read a new chapter of a novel without buying it. The combination of honest and convenience will make these the rare lunatic exceptions.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 05:43 PM:

So which of you is volunteering to explain this to Mr. Ellison?

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 05:35 PM:

Mr. Ellison has run afoul of the rare lunatic exceptions I mentioned.

In this case I'd leave the explanations to Amazon's lawyers, who would be paid to have that conversation.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 07:46 PM:

Kevin: Good idea. Leave it to the lawyers.

Amazon's search-within-the-book feature is as safe and beneficial as mother's milk, and the reason is this: there is, today, virtually zero demand for e-books.

Zero, nil, none. The entire revenue for the entire e-book industry is about the same as what print publishers spend on Post-It notes.

Hell, I'm a huge e-book advocate, I think it's really pretty exciting technology -- and yet I don't read e-books. I think I've read three of them in the course of my entire life.

I think this is a hardware problem, and I think that in a matter of years rather than decades we're going to see computer and phone displays evolve to the point where they become as easy-to-use and as cheap as books on paper. At that point, book piracy may well become a problem and something like Amazon's search-within-the-book could be a problem.

But until then, it's not a big deal. If I wanted to steal a book, I wouldn't try to pirate it electronically, I'd just go to Borders wearing a big floppy coat with lots of pockets.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 08:15 PM:

But you see if I am an anthologist and I have hypothetically reprinted a story of an author's in the olden days before Amazon was invented and Amazon puts up the full text in this way, his contract is with ME. It would be lovely if Amazon's lawyers could talk to the short story writer's lawyers. But that isn't how it works.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 02:30 AM:

Kathryn, are you saying that you object to what Amazon is doing, or are you concerned your writers will object?

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 05:28 AM:


Agreed. It's definitely a hardware problem.

I have two separate hand-held ebook readers. One, an HP Jornada, has many other functions, but holds a creditable amount of ebooks in Microsoft Lit format. This is useful to a point, but the battery doesn't last long enough, the screen's too small for comfortable reading for anything of significant length, and it's a pain in the butt to have to page down with a stylus to read a story.

The other, I just got: an RCA 1100 ebook, new in the box, which my father found at a church benefit sale for $5. Gemstar gutted their ebooks division last July, are not answering their tech support phone or emails, are not selling ebooks or ebook readers anymore and generally would have made the device absolutely useless to register, except for the small security hole in that the previous owner never registered an email, so I registered it for him, then put in a password request, got his old password, and went and change all the other reg data to mine. I could also, in theory, keep charging new ebook purchases to his credit card (still filed with Gemstar and registered to my device), but more than dishonesty, that would require Gemstar to reopen their ebook sales. Which ain't happening soon.

The reading experience is more pleasant with the RCA eBook, but it still leaves things to be desired. For one, a better onboard dictionary. Since the only books easily available for it are copyright-free classics, there are a number of words that would be nice to be able to look up, but they are, of course, not in the dictionary Gemstar included, and there are no plans for any more supplements.

It's a cool $5 toy, and once I manage to get the Gemstar software working (they released their proprietary software to their customers so we can at least make our own ebooks), I plan to put a collection of my own fiction on it so I can use it for samples, rather than dragging along a suitcase of anthologies at cons.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 03:23 PM:

Kevin - That's nifty about the GemStar. What do you use the sample stories for at cons? Who do you give them to?

I think the dedicated e-book reader is a bad idea (unless you can get one for five bucks at a rummage sale). The successful e-book reader will be the multi-function handheld computer, or the cell phone, with a far better display than is available today. I'm fascinated by developments in digital paper.

I use my PDA as a text reader. I've only read two or three e-books as such, but I've read several short stories, and thousands and thousands of downloaded magazine and newspaper articles. I've had several Palm devices and a Handspring Visor.

My current PDA is a Palm Tungsten C, which has Wi-Fi capabilities, and I'm quite happy using it for online reading and blogging. As a matter of fact, I wrote a couple of entries on this thread on the Tungsten C (not this one though; this time I happen to be working on my desktop computer).

I do think that e-books will give rise to a different KIND of book, just as books printed on a printing press are different from hand-copied books.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 05:45 PM:

If I'm doing a reading, and I don't have a print copy on hand--for example, when you get to a con and are asked to be a last-minute fill-in for the Midnight Horror reading--it's convenient to have the stories in the Jornada and be able to read from that. The Gemstar is simply more convenient to read, but the proprietary format BS means I'm going to have trouble getting them in it from that. My bookshelf on Alexlit is nice for Microsoft Lit, but doesn't yet do Gemstar .rb format, and while Fictionwise has my stories in .rb, I really don't feel like paying for copies of stories that I wrote. (Insert crabby grumble here.)

At a con, I've once had the experience of someone asking to read some of my poetry, and I was able to beam it to her Jornada. But other devices just got upset and refused to talk to it, because, again, of proprietary idiocy.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 10:32 PM:

Ah, yes, I wouldn't want to do a reading or a lecture based on notes displayed on a handheld computer. I think I'd like a larger display.

On the other hand, maybe it would work just fine.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 06:47 AM:

Well, thanks to notes on Slashdot, I now have my Gemstar up and running with my own fiction, as well as several other people's, without too much trouble.

It turns out that if you download the software for the old Rocketbook, that includes a program to turn HTML into RB format, which you can then upload with the Gemstar ebook Librarian program.

As a small added plus, I had an HTML version of Hope Mirrlees Lud-in-the-Mist, digitized by someone when in the copyright limbo before the Mickey Mouse Protection Act went into effect. Or maybe it was an actual copyright violation. In any case, I have a paperback on my shelf and now a Rocketbook version on my Gemstar.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 08:53 AM:

Those of you predicting a change of policy at Amazon due to worries about copying were right. The Register this morning is reporting that they are attempting to disable printing on their new search service. It appears that there already had been problems:

Upon testing the new feature, staff from the Authors Guild managed to print out 108 consecutive pages from a bestselling book. The Guild also noted the potential for abuse by college students. At least one student is already bragging that he used the system to print out what he needed, when others, to their chagrin, had bought the book.
'We believe that most authors should sit tight and see what further technical improvements Amazon makes before deciding whether to pull their books from the program,' the Authors Guild writes in a statement.
Steven Kaye ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2003, 12:17 AM:

There are already several workarounds to the methods they're using to prevent printing.

Regarding the earlier "Look Inside the Book" program, I've seen claims that standard contracts with publishers allow for limited excerpts for publicity purposes. I'll try to dig up some sources.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2003, 12:22 PM:

>limited excerpts for publicity purposes

These have traditionally been a specific limited excerpts predetermined by the publisher and unless contractually specified, do not include entire works or just the pages the reader was interested in.

Most publishers would consider it a contract violoation if authors did what Amazon is doing. Exceptions such The Hacker Crackdown require permission.