Press "Enter" to skip to content

google books – whoa

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.


  1. Phil Crissman Phil Crissman 2007-10-12

    I’m not sure what deal, if any, Google has with publishers… but the “entire” book is not available. At least, when I followed your link… many pages are missing. Notably, near the end it’s noted that pages “94-216 are not a part of this book preview.” It looks like a dozen or so pages at the end of each chapter are missing, also.

    Regardless, I think your questions are good ones. I’ve been kind of bewildered by the service since they introduced it… just enough pages to read part of a book, but not enough to read all of it… why? A partial answer could be to encourage people to buy the book, but I’m sure it has more to do with “organizing the world’s information”…

  2. Michael Park Michael Park 2007-10-12

    It says ‘copyrighted material’ at the bottom, I wonder what that is intended to do… Oh google…

  3. Hugh Hugh 2007-10-13

    @phil: point taken about entire. but it’s defn more than a few pages. (updated above). still if the purpose is to search books, then it seems – well, not very useful. my guess is this is google saying: “this is the future. all we have to do is press a button and everything goes online.” to force us all to think about the potential here, which is significant. for instance, what if google pays publishers a % of ad revenues generated from serving their books? that would be a decent work-around that might benefit publishers. god knows publishers are clueless about the changing world on the web.

    @michael: yes … a funny notice. maybe it means: we don’t have to obey laws because we are google, but you do.

  4. cali cali 2007-10-13

    Yes, they have agreements with the publishers but if you look around a while you’ll find not all books have the same level of visibility and some none at all. The point seems to be, from something I read on it a while ago, to offer book store/library type browsing from the comfort of your couch. Then when you find something you like you’re supposed to go buy it. They do have a good selection of public domain scans though, if you select full view in your search. Very useful, that. Of course, all the scans are copyright even for the pd works.

    I’ve been getting a lot more google book results in searches lately, so I would say yes they are going to be favored in searches. As an example if you google Northanger Abbey, the google book comes up first, gutenberg is seventh on the list. Some gutenberg books aren’t even that lucky these days and are buried a couple of pages in.

  5. Hugh Hugh 2007-10-13

    @cali: “Of course, all the scans are copyright even for the pd works.” they may like to claim that, but they are wrong. pd works are pd no matter what the origin. they can’t claim a copyright because they are reproducing it in a new medium.

Comments are closed.