Thursday, June 07, 2007

Publishers ambivalent in Book Search

It has been silent around the book scan project of Google. But now there is the announcement that Google expands its service Book Search. Publishing companies can now add Book Search to their own site, either the entire service or a customization of their own publications. In this way interested readers can search on keywords for a publication, find the bibliographic data, read a few pages and run to the book store or library to get it. And people on the internet can not read or download the complete book online. Publishers should be happy with this marketing tool provided by Google, you would think.

Google started the service in 2004. By now Google has scanned more than a million books. There are books scanned, which are in the public domain and are copyright free; these are usually provided by libraries. Recently the university library of Gent in Belgium signed a cooperation agreement with Google to scan its special collection from the Book Tower; the books in this collection came into the library with the French revolution when convents and abbeys were confiscated, but brought together in valuable and unique collections. There is not really a discussion about these books as they are in the public domain and hardly handed to readers. In this way more people can enjoy and study the books. So far no trouble, certainly not for the publishers.

But Google also scans copyrighted books. Some times this is done with permission of publishers. The publishers see an opportunity for marketing their publications in this way and like to participate. The Dutch academic publisher Brill for example has agreed to scan all it publications, current and out of stock. People can search on terms and Google guarantees that it will never let a reader read the entire book online or have it downloaded. No problem there; in some cases the publishers have even the courtesy to inform authors of their books being scanned and have them decide to have it scanned. In my case the Dutch publisher Boom ask permission for one of my contributions to a book.

But there are also scans of copyrighted books which are made without the permission of the publisher. In this case libraries offer their collection for scanning to Google, not only books in the public domain, but also copyrighted books. And in this case libraries - usually libraries of universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, but also public libraries like the one of New York - have not asked published for permission to have its books scanned. And that is where the problems start. Google takes the position that it can scan anything in the world, regardless of copyright issues, as it only scans for search terms. Publishers think that Google scans books and keep the entire book in cache, regardless whether it is a collection of search words or key words or the complete text.

This situation brings many publishers into an ambivalent position. On the one hand they give Google permission to scan copyrighted books. On the other hand publishers might find themselves in court with Google fighting over copyright abuse. One of these cases is McGraw-Hill. On the on hand the publisher uses the Google Book Search service on one of its sites, while on the other hand it fights Google in court together with the American Association of Publishers (AAP).

Altogether this project did not win a beauty contest, not for PR nor for principles. Yet it is a nice marketing tool for publishers. On the other hand, there is still an unchartered territory about search engines and copyright, which should be cleared.

Blog Posting Number: 777


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