We all know that Google influences our (online) behaviour to a massive extent. But their plan to digitalize every book in the world has been described as ‘the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet’. Google and the World Brain gives us a little sneak peek into Google’s plan to ban physical books from modern society, and can be seen on 4 May during the What Design Can Do Film Festival  in De Balie.

Door Rozemarijn Koopmans

In 2002 Google began scanning every printed word on the planet. The dream to accumulate all existing human knowledge into one database slowly became reality in an attempt at centralizing the world’s shared written heritage. But the other side of this utopian medal soon kicked in: how will Google deal with authors, copyrights and valuable physical elements?

All your books belong to us

The documentary’s title derives from the essay World Brain written in 1937 by H.G. Wells, a predictive text on creating a higher form of intelligence. The old saying that ‘knowledge is power’ proves to be as accurate as ever when discussing Google’s position. Ethical challenges continue to arise as we spend more and more of our time online, and the boundaries between public and private spheres disappear.

Google and the World Brain reveals one of the ways in which Google actively expands into the lives of everyone with an internet connection. It thus didn’t take long until a group of activist authors united in an attempt to stop Google from ‘stealing their intellectual property’. This process of ‘stealing’ isn’t confined to Google’s practices, but to online copyright infringements all over the web. There have been legal issues with Napster, the Pirate Bay, and loads of other peer-to-peer sharing services since the early 1990s.

Google, however, started off by signing deals with several university libraries in the US, the UK and Spain, and then began scanning their books. But when over six million books proved to be still protected by copyright law, and Google had no compensation plan for their authors, the company ran into some serious legal issues: the Authors Guilds sued Google for up to $2 billion in damages, which brought the World Brain project to an end.

Google and the World Brain serves as an exemplary story for the Net’s big themes: privacy, surveillance, monopoly and so on. As one watches Google and the World Brain, numerous questions about the future of copyright law and file sharing come to mind. The Internet has brought us many great things: instant access to all kinds of information, culture and communities. But the Internet also takes things from us without asking.

Google and the World Brain

May 4th 2014, 21:15h.

De Balie
Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10
020 5535100


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