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Google Books « Previous | |Next »
January 2, 2010

Google Books ( previously known as Google Book Research or GBS) will make it possible for consumers to purchase access to millions of copyrighted books currently in print, and to read them on hand-held devices or computer screens, with payment going to authors and publishers as well as Google. Do we have the emergence of a digital public library in the age of the search engine. Will this replace the public library of the card catalog?

Robert Darnton says about Google Books that:

Many millions more—books covered by copyright but out of print, at least seven million in all, including untold millions of "orphans" whose rightsholders have not been identified—will be available through subscriptions paid for by institutions such as universities. The database, along with books in the public domain that Google has already digitized, will constitute a gigantic digital library, and it will grow over time so that someday it could be larger than the Library of Congress (which now contains over 21 million catalogued books). By paying a moderate subscription fee, libraries, colleges, and educational institutions of all kinds could have instant access to a whole world of learning and literature.

He adds that Google has by now digitized some ten million books along with the missing pages, botched images, faulty editions, omitted artwork, censoring, and misconceived cataloging. Though 2006 Google signed agreements in 2006 with five great research libraries—the New York Public, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and Oxford's Bodleian—to digitize their book, books in copyright posed a problem, which soon was compounded by lawsuits from publishers and authors.

Darnton asks: On what terms will Google make those texts available to readers? It is a good question given that Google Books is a monopoly--- Google's digital database is not a public library-- and so there is the danger of monopolies tending to charge monopoly prices.

The governments of France and Germany have urged the court to reject the settlement "in its entirety" or at least insofar as it applied to their own citizens. Far from seeing any potential public good in it, they condemned it for creating an "unchecked, concentrated power" over the digitization of a vast amount of literature and the "uncontrolled, autocratic concentration of power in a single corporate entity," which threatened the "free exchange of ideas through literature."

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:57 PM | | Comments (2)


It's an interesting phenomenon isn't it? I mean the ebooks available to the general public for free, not the stuff you can only get through Google Scholar by subscription.

By and large I would have thought there is no significant demand for paid access to these books. Google has created a demand, such as it is, BECAUSE THEY ARE FREE. The revenue is generated by advertisements and other things which don't affect me at all but which presumably make the project commercial.

The intriguing question is what will happen if this indirect funding mechanism becomes inadequate. Could Google start to charge directly for access? I doubt it. I use Google books as resources for students in online teaching. If they disappeared behind a paywall I would simply stop using them.

I'll watch developments with interest.

I also use Google Books for my work--reading them online. But only because they are free.

Darnton suggests on possiblity given the unlikely of state intervention to create a digital public library:

The digitizing, open-access distribution, and preservation of orphan works could be done by a nonprofit organization such as the Internet Archive, a nonprofit group that was built as a digital library of texts, images, and archived Web pages. In order to avoid conflict with interests in the current commercial market, the database would include only books in the public domain and orphan works. Its time span would increase as copyrights expired, and it could include an opt-in provision for rightsholders of books that are in copyright but out of print.

I do think that Google Books will make book learning more accessible on a new, worldwide scale, despite the great digital divide that separates the poor from the computerized. It will also open up possibilities for research involving vast quantities of data, which could never be mastered without digitization.