Google has come under fire from numerous detractors for its Google Books mass book digitisation programme.

Publishers and writers are cautious about Google's objectives with Google Books, with the more extreme antagonists seeing the longer term outcome as little less than mass piracy. Numerous authors have already opted out of the service.

Mass philanthropy or book piracy?

For its part, Google sees Google Books as an act of mass philanthropy, bringing the world's libraries to our fingertips, offering instant, free and easy access for everybody that has an internet connection or access to the web.

The truth of the matter, as ever, lies somewhere in between these two extremes, as the Observer's literary editor, Robert McCrum agreed this week: "something constructive could come from this chaos."

US historian Robert Darnton points out in the latest New York Review of Books, citing Thomas Jefferson's "Knowledge is the common property of mankind," that Americans "can close the gap between the high ground of principle and the hardscrabble of everyday life ... by creating a national digital library".

"The vexed question of copyright"

Darnton's goes on to discuss that "vexed question of copyright" in pointing out that Japan, France and the Netherlands all have plans for a national digital library, calling for the US to do the same.

And, as McCrum points out in the Guardian this week, "why can't Britain?" noting that, "Google has simply demonstrated from a corporate and commercial point of view what should be possible for a national culture."

McCrum makes an impassioned call to arms for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work to bring together the many seperate digitisation programmes already under way, across a number of publishing houses, libraries and archive collections, an "archipelago of common knowledge" which "needs to become federated, within national boundaries for the common good."

Perhaps Google Books could prove to be the cement that helps to tie these many book digitisation projects together?

Via The Guardian