Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why #Google Books is a breath of fresh air

At #Europeana, there was a track on the first day about the risks and rewards. This turned out in a big FUD fest about copyrights. This negative stance was later explained as "bringing a sense of reality to the party". The problem is the current acceptance of copyright practices. Copyright holders claim rights to exploitation and are wilfully blind to any responsibilities.

The Google books project very much fulfils the responsibilities of copyright holders. As it scans the books that are contained in libraries, it ensures that these books are preserved in a digital format.

It makes these books available on the Internet. This is great news for books that are already in the public domain. The best news is that books that are considered "orphans" and books that are still in print are also scanned. Google seeks active cooperation for books in this category, it provides methods for people to buy such books either as a "dead wood" or as a digitital copy.

In the United States there is agreement on a method that allows Google to sell orphan works where the copyright holder is missing. As there is no such provision for Europe, Europeans will have less access to their cultural heritage.

The FUD around copyright damages the availability of knowledge, it does not help with the exploitation of books. Optimisation of access to our cultural heritage trumps the opinion of copyright holders where they do not take responsibility and provide an adequate service.


Axel Boldt said...

I would be a lot happier with Google Books if they released their scanned pages and OCR texts of public domain books in the public domain. Currently they claim copyright on those, with a license "free for personal use". That's not good enough, and clearly illegal.

Someone should write software that scrapes the texts of public domain books from the Google Books site, and then release them in the public domain.

GerardM said...

Perfection is the enemy of the good here. Google did the scanning OCR'ing and provide it free of charge. By making these books available for free, effectively you have what free access to a well polished product.

My point is that Google does the job of the publishing industry.

Axel Boldt said...

It's true that right now Google Books effectively provides all the access I need. However I have internet access at all times; offline projects like OLPC cannot use Google Books content at all. Further, even the online access may change at any time. Google may start to charge for access, or sell off Google Books, or go bankrupt. Businesses have shorter lifespans than people, so they shouldn't be the keepers of the world's cultural heritage.

By contrast, the Project Gutenberg books will be available for free forever, without restrictions. Public domain Google Books content should be liberated as well, since it is already owned by the public.