Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Another defense of Google Library

Victor Keegan, To scan or not to scan, The Guardian, March 8, 2006. Excerpt:

The University of Michigan used to keep its library under lock and key. Students were alllowed in once a week, but needed the librarian's permission before they could touch a book. Now, things are different. The university has given Google co-founder Larry Page (a Michigan alumnus) permission to digitise every one of its 7m volumes, making them available through the Google Book Search to anyone in the world with an internet connection. Other institutions including Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and the Library of Congress are also involved in the exercise which has mind-boggling implications for access to knowledge for everyone from Alaska to deepest Africa.

Who could possibly object to this? Publishers, of course.

Like the music industry before them, when first faced with digital downloads they are ordering the waves of technological progress to go away and not disturb their cosy world. Publishers in the US are suing Google over copyright; in his World Book Day address Bloomsbury's Nigel Newton even called for a boycott of Google's search engine....Would publishers object if Google's project led to an increase, rather than a decrease, in book purchases? I think not. There are already signs in America that Google Book Search is leading to a strong rise in demand for out-of-print books (although unless traditional publishers get their acts together the fruits of this boom may go to the new breed of print-on-demand publishers). I would be amazed if the same did not happen to books in copyright. So let American publishers sue to find out what "fair use" means. Doubtless the case will go to appeal; by the time it ends they, like music publishers before them, may experience a surge in demand for their books, especially those not readily available in bookshops. If, for example, someone searching on Google on a subject in which they are interested unexpectedly comes across a relevant book, reads a bit and orders a copy, one more book is sold, providing income to publisher and author and revenue for Google from contextual advertising. The search engine has undoubtedly been arrogant in having an opt-out rather than opt-in policy for the authors of the books it has scanned, but there is a strong public interest in bringing the millions of books lying fallow in libraries to the world's attention. A colleague was delighted to find that his copyrighted but out-of-print book was featured on Google Book Search, even though no one had asked his permission. Humankind is the winner.