google books – whoa

by Hugh

I’m as much of a copyfighter as the next guy, and have some street cred in public domain, free culture circles. I think that big companies abuse copyright, and that draconican copyright systems stifle innovation and creativity, and further are no good for artists and creators. But I’ve never argued that copyright should be discarded, especially as it relates to commercial applications.

I’ve heard about Google Books, and despite my thoughts on copyright, it always seemed a little bit … gauche … to me. A multi-gazillion-dollar company like Google saying: “Hey everyone, we’re going to scan all you books and make them available to the world.” And tough turkeys, to you publishers, writers and your copyrights. We are Google and you shall submit. it seemed to me that they were bullying publishers, and deserved all the lawsuits they got for copyright infringement.

But, actually, I’d never landed on Google Books, never really looked at it.

I just did.

I did an old fashioned Google Search for “wallace stevens domination of black harmonium” (actually, to find it’s copyright status) and then I followed this link to the Google Books scan of the 2003 Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry, by Christopher Beach.

I was kind of shocked. The whole bookMuch of the book is there online for anyone to read.

Some thoughts/questions:
1. does Google have an agreement with the publisher?
2. wow … search for any phrase in any book is soon to be reality.
3. are *all* books really going to be available through the graces of google?
4. what’s google’s deal with big publishers? little publishers? poets, little writers?
5. what do publishers/writers think of google serving ads underneath the scans of their books?
6. will google privilege google books links over, say, gutenberg in their search results?
7. … more, questions, …?

UPDATE: some answers, from Google Books:

For books that enter Book Search through the Library Project, what you see depends on the book’s copyright status. We respect copyright law and the tremendous creative effort authors put into their work. If the book is in the public domain and therefore out of copyright, you can page through the entire book and even download it and read it offline. But if the book is under copyright, and the publisher or author is not part of the Partner Program, we only show basic information about the book, similar to a card catalog, and, in some cases, a few snippets — sentences of your search terms in context. The aim of Google Book Search is to help you discover books and learn where to buy or borrow them, not read them online from start to finish. It’s like going to a bookstore and browsing – with a Google twist.