Trouble For The Book Search at Amazon?

The Volokh Conspiracy seems to be a blog run by Eugene and Sasha Volokh and various other legal minds, devoted to discussion of legal issues of many kinds. On Saturday, Eugene posted "Trouble for Amazon's Book Search?" in which he reprinted an e-mail from The Author's Guild about Amazon's new full-text search, adding his own comments on the legal ramifications.

In his words, "I don't know whether their claims about the authors' contracts are accurate, but if they are, this could pose problems for Amazon. (Amazon would still have a decent fair use claim even if they can't claim a contractual right, but it won't be open and shut, for some of the reasons the e-mail below describes.) I leave it to readers to decide whether this shows that the copyright system imposes too many transaction costs on worthy endeavors, that publishers and other businesses violate authors' rights, both, or neither..."


There are certain books that are ripe for abuse. I went to Amazon to see about getting some free salmon recipes. I ran the search salmon and found the book "James McNair's Salmon Cookbook". At the bottom of the search is a choice that says "see more references to salmon" in this book. When you click on this link it provides links to almost every page in the book because it is a salmon cookbook.

On the other hand if all someone wanted was free salmon recipes all they need to do is use Google.

If you want to game the system you can definitly use this feature from Amazon to obtain some free content. The trade off for authors is whether the exposure provided by the search provides more sales than is lost by people gaming the system.

My prediction is that authors of travel guides and cookbooks will look to pull their content. Other authors will probably want to keep their books available to benefit from the exposure.
Take the salmon book for example. When Christmas comes up I may buy it for my friend. Had Amazon not had the feature I would not even know about the book. Hard to give a stack of computer print outs as a gift.

Bibliofuture wrote:

    Had Amazon not had the feature I would not even know about the book.

Really? Don't you think you would have found it because "salmon" is in the title (and probably the description and reviews)?

Re. the larger issue: Publishers and bookstores are already starting to think about the issue of readers getting what they need (without buying) from reference books, travel guides, books of poetry. See this> in the San Jose Mercury News.

You are correct. The salmon book would have been retrieved by a title search.

Here is a better example. I ran a search at Amazon for "baked halibut". Found the book "The Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook". It contained the recipe for "Breaded Halibut Baked in Sour Cream". I clicked on the link and was viewing the recipe. Previously in Amazon a search on "halibut" would not have retrieved this book.

This is no way an argument against anything you said. Just an attempt to provide a better example.

Some people may ask why I did the search I did. I would have to answer, "Just for the halibut!"