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Explosive Words

Updikes Autographs His Book
"Defend your lonely forts," John Updike, here signing copies of his new book, "Terrorist," told booksellers on Saturday. ". . . Books are intrinsic to our human identity." (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

" 'When Google announced in December 2004 that it would digitally scan the books of five major research libraries to make their contents searchable, the promise of a universal library was resurrected,' " Updike read. He then followed up with later selections that had, he said, "clarified" Kelly's vision: " 'At the same time, once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into re-ordered books and virtual bookshelves . . . once created, these "bookshelves" will be published and swapped in the public commons. . . .

" 'The new model of course is based on the intangible assets of digital bits, where copies are no longer cheap but free.' "

Reading further, Updike noted Kelly's assertion that "copy-protection schemes" are helpless to hold back the technological tide. "Schemes," he repeated sarcastically, drawing a laugh. As his audience well knew, the Association of American Publishers filed suit last year on behalf of five major publishers alleging that Google's library scanning project is a massive and flagrant violation of copyright law.

Updike went on at some length, heaping scorn on Kelly's notion that authors who no longer got paid for copies of their work could profit from it by selling "performances" or "access to the creator." ("Now as I read it, this is a pretty grisly scenario.")

Unlike the commingled, unedited, frequently inaccurate mass of "information" on the Web, he said, "books traditionally have edges." But "the book revolution, which from the Renaissance on taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling pod of snippets.

"So, booksellers," he concluded, "defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our human identity."

'Apples and Oranges'

Three flights down from the ballroom where Updike had rallied the literati, BEA was in full buzzing swing.

Booksellers wore advertising on their name tags ("James Patterson Rules Summer") as they strolled with dazed looks through cavernous aisles filled with publishers' booths. Publicists enticed them with freebies and author appearances. (Look, isn't that Bob Newhart?)

Meanwhile, a mild-mannered man named Tom Turvey sat beneath a huge blue, red, yellow and green Google logo saying, in effect: No harm, no foul.

Google has been coming to BEA for three years now, but it seemed a bit more visible this year. Maybe it was the fleet of subcompacts with "Google Book Search Mobile" painted on them that cruised the streets around the convention center offering free rides to people with BEA badges. Maybe it was the cookies bearing the phrase "Just a taste -- Google Book Search" thrust at conventioneers near the main entrance, or the lavish party the company threw Friday night at the old City Museum.

Turvey's business card gives his title as "Head, Google Book Search, Partnerships, Content." He has a PR problem and he knows it. His company's controversial library scanning program is not the same as Google Book Search, he said, but media coverage of the former has been such that most people confuse the two.

He explained: Book Search is a program supported by publishers, including the ones suing over the library program. It's a partnership with publishers in which Google digitizes their books with their permission, then refers any Google users who encounter the books while searching to the publishers' Web sites and to online vendors like Amazon.com, where the books can be purchased.


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