Perspective: On Privatization

Do words have meanings–meanings that change slowly over time–or did that noted logician Charles L. Dodgson get it right when he had one of his more scholarly characters, H. Dumpty, assert that:

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less

To some extent, this essay–the second major essay in the July 2009 Cites & Insights–is about the proposed settlement of the Association of American Publishes and Authors Guild lawsuits against Google over Google Book Search.
To some extent, it’s a followup to the issue-length Perspective: The Google Books Search Settlement, a 25,000-word, 30-page combination of thoughts, citations and commentary that makes up the March 2009 Cites & Insights.
But it’s also, to a very great extent, about meaning–and whether it’s acceptable to cry “foul!” when public intellectuals stretch the use of a word beyond (what I consider) reasonable limits in order to make political capital.
I didn’t get into some secondary issues–for example:

  • The works in question when Google’s accused of “privatizing” library collections are not in the public domain–they’re possibly-orphan works, which means they’re still covered by copyright.

Most of this essay appeared earlier as blog posts and comments, but I believe it’s easier to read and try to digest the set of arguments in this combined form. I recognize that some, maybe most, readers won’t agree with me.


Oops, almost forgot: If you really hate PDF and want this article all by itself, in somewhat harder-to-read HTML, here you go.

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