Ronald Reagan used to view the Soviet Union through a "prism of reality" – ie. he didn't trust them an inch, which is one of the reasons he initiated the Strategic Defence Initiative. In a way the media has started to treat Google in the same fashion, demonising the search giant for its scale and ambition.
Just a few weeks ago Google's controversial plans to digitise millions of out-of-print books were finally approved. The landmark deal between Google and authors' associations in America is a watered-down version of the original plans, although it will still enable tens of thousands of writers to profit, as readers can search millions of works, read extracts online and buy full copies.
Not all publishers have welcomed the development, however. "We should be extremely cautious about ceding rights to any organisation in this sort of default manner," says Anthony Cheetham, director of Atlantic Books. "It is generally felt that if somebody wants to reproduce, they have to seek the owner's permission, not that they can use it and then say: 'We didn't ask you but we'll give you a proportion of the takings.' Somebody said that it was a bit like the burglar coming in and taking all your possessions and then calling you afterwards and saying that he was selling them on."
Which is why I found last Monday so fascinating, having been invited by Google to a dinner at Balliol College, Oxford, to discuss its desire to scan every book in the world. In 2004, Google began a partnership with Oxford University Library to copy mostly 19th-century public domain books from its Bodleian library. Five years on, the first stage of that process is complete, with over 400,000 books having been scanned.
Which has made Sarah Thomas, the Director of Oxford University Library, and Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director at the Bodleian Library, very happy indeed. Because as I found out last week, Google has scanned the books at the Bodleian's behest. Some might say this is like the Russians asking for "Star Wars", but it's also proof that a little arbitration goes a long, long way.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'Reuse content