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Danny Lyon spoke out last week about Google books’ disregard for rights, artistic craft and common respect. In Google vs. The Bikeriders he lays out a short and no nonsense argument.

Lyon doesn’t oppose digital distribution of his work – he just doesn’t want it scanned en masse. He wants publishers, software programmers and artists to do the work.

On the existence of books, Lyon warned, “I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.”


The Bikeriders 1968, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan 1969, and Conversations with the Dead 1971, were all out of print within two years of their publications. They had all been remaindered by their publishers and would remain out of print for at least twenty years each.

“Conversations” is still out of print. Under Google’s new rules, Conversations with the Dead could be scanned and put on line by Google without even contacting me. Many photo book makers are torn between standing up for their rights, and “being left out” by the Ruler of the Internet.

So what is wrong with having Goggle (sic) bring my out of print work to the world wide web?

1) It is theft. Ownership of out of print work reverts to the author (me). Copyright has worked well in America for centuries and is part of the foundation of our Democracy and the Ist Amendment. I own my writing and my work. They really do have to ask.

2) Picture books are different. You cannot scan them and put them on the internet. Scanning a printed image destroys the beauty of the work which is embedded in the work itself. That is why authors make picture books. They are making a thing of beauty. That is why printers, ink, paper, and publishers and production managers are all so important. They all work  to create a thing of beauty, a book. In this case, as picture book.

There is nothing wrong with putting a picture book on the internet. But that can only be done the way a book is printed, which is to scan the individual images.  It is the difference between “the real thing” and a bad xerox of it.

If they want “Conversations with the Dead” on the internet they have to work with publishers, who employ the people to make the prints and make the scans and recreate the book for internet use, just the way a person makes a good website.

That’s a lot of work that will create a lot of jobs, and it should.

Publishers are the people to do this, as they are in the book business. Google seems intent on destroying the book business and its just possible, that they will.

Books, the printed smelly kind you hold in your hand, have been part of and have helped advance civilization for five hundred years. The Greeks and Ancient Jews used papyrus rolls, which they also held to write on, and to read, 2,500 years ago.  I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.

I am amazed that Lyon even needs to fight a corner on this. He surely is more valuable to us than scanned copies of his books.

How to tell Google to lay off Lyon’s publications?


Danny Lyon’s website is Bleak Beauty.

Here for everything else:


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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