Google Print vs. Publishers

O'Reilly Radar > Google Library vs. Publishers:

"Google isn't 'borrowing' the books from libraries. They are partnering with libraries to do something that is very much in line with the mission of libraries, which is to store and share human knowledge. "

Google Blog:

"In October 2004 we announced a program called Google Print, a way for publishers to make their books discoverable by the millions of people who search on Google every day. Shortly thereafter, we added a complementary program to help find all books more easily by partnering with libraries to index their collections too. The goal of Google Print is ambitious: to make the full text of all the world's books searchable by anyone. These books are hard to find now, and for most of them, no full-text search exists. We think that making books easier to find will have a positive impact on the world, and we welcome the challenge."

I mentioned Google Print in one of my earlier posts. Who would have known that a few weeks later instead of applauding Google for undertaking this selfless endeavor, the debate on whether Google's pet project is infringing copyright laws becomes the focus of this project. There are various responses on this but the most compelling, technically-inclined discussion is none other than the one on O'Reilly Radar.

What I really like about Google Print is the fact that you can search through books without going to the library first. Sometimes the books I want are not available at my library and it has to be requested from another library. Before doing so, I would really like to know whether the book that I want is really that good or not. One way to do so would be to search for reviews on Amazon. However, as with all reviews, there are subjected to bias. Also, sometimes I would like to form my own opinion of the book. By just letting me see parts of the book, I could actually get a better idea of what it is worth. In fact, Amazon has something that lets publisher let you see parts of the book. Amazon did not suffer any copyright infringement because they only offer parts of the book: the table of contents, the introduction and maybe the index. Google Print, on the other hand, practically has the entire book scanned in. This, I think, is what confuses the publishers and authors. It is quite impossible to read an entire book let alone an entire chapter from Google Print. Try it. In fact, some of the pages are even blanked out if the publisher requests it. Just because the entire book is online does not mean that web users can access the entire thing.

Also, another potential benefit of Google Print is to let people check for plagiarism. For instance, imagine that you are reading someone's paper and come across a phrase that you are familiar with but not enough to put a finger on where you read it before. Enter the phrase in Google Print and see whether anything shows up. I think that most professors and teachers might find this useful while grading papers.

Here is a quick list of things that I think people can do with Google Print:

As always there are also real reasons why Google Print is not such a good idea. Most of the reasons I include here are paraphrased from Mike Perry. Perry argues that different copyright laws apply in different countries. By having Google Print, it undermines the efforts of protecting copyright laws that apply to different countries. Well, personally, I think the web is generous enough that people can actually procure a copy of the book with or without international copyright issues. Furthermore, Perry argues that it is for the authors and publishers themselves to determine if they want their book to be scanned and put online. It is not for Google to decide. Google cannot just walk into some library and start scanning any book that they want. Basically, Perry is saying that Google should be more conservative and only include books that publishers have authorized and not the other way round where they force the publisher to deauthorize which books cannot be scanned.

Right now there are two different policies for Google Print: the Publisher Program and the Library Project. The Library Project is where Google goes to libraries at Univeristy of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, NYPL and Oxford and scan the books that are already in the library. This includes both books that are already in the public domain and also those that are still under copyright. For books that are still under copyright, Google Print limits the actual amount that is displayed. The Publisher Program allows publisher to include books that have not made it those libraries yet to be scanned by Google. This option also allows publishers to specify which books they want to scan and which should be left out..

Personally, I think most publishers have much more to gain by letting Google Print scan their books in. True, they might feel apprehensive about letting some company scan their entire works and provide it free through the web. But, if the book is good in the first place, doing so would only introduce a larger audience to it. Of course, if the book sucks then you might lose some sales. But then again, bad books always have other ways of making their sales. For instance, by enticing professors to use them as textbooks!

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