A Google Books decision?

An agreement of sorts was made between Google and some of the plaintiffs (the publishers) in the long-running court battle over whether Google Books overstepped its bounds when they scanned in-copyright works and put them online (ranging from full view to preview to snippet view, to no view, but at least searchable). This agreement doesn’t seem to end the debate – there are still other groups still continuing the lawsuit – but it’s a start.

It’s not clear exactly what is in the agreement, though it looks like the size of the snippets that one can view will increase. On the downside, it looks like publishers can have Google entirely take down their books from the site. This would be bad for us scholars: it’s incredibly useful being able to search through a bunch of recent secondary sources for some concept or term, to locate which books talk about it on which pages. If many publishers take their books away, I guess scholars will have to scan in those books for themselves in order to regain that capability. Can’t we all just get along?

Inside Higher Ed’s story.



2 responses to “A Google Books decision?”

  1. Mark Danley says :

    Unfortunately we cannot all get along – because we have (scholars) have fundamentally different motivations than Google. Google’s motivation is to maximize their profit. We scholars like to eat and often hope to earn a living. Yet our professional lives as scholars is (usually) not in and of itself a for-profit business. Google is. At present, Google’s profit motive is consistent with giving scholars something useful, to some extent, in Google Books. They have no motivation to get along, however, unless getting along coincides with maximizing their profit as a business. Let us hope that is possible, but the short history of electornic publishing and its relationship to scholars suggests that it is not, regrettably.

    • jostwald says :

      I’m not really sure that I get where you’re coming from – I actually would’ve pegged you on the other side given your librarian status. Google is certainly in it for the profit, but they profit by *increasing* the audience (what scholars want) whereas the pricing of academic works has the opposite effect. And Google isn’t profiting on an individual book nearly to the extent that many publishers are (Longman, Blackwell, and so on – less so the university presses). These are all publishers who get all sorts of free labor from us academics (they don’t fund our research, nor provide technical equipment and assistance, nor time off for composition…) and then either profit from it, or else minimize our impact by charging extremely high prices for the books (often with very little editorial input, one of the main ways in which they are, theoretically, ‘adding value’). Google gives a lot more than it gets.

      I’d argue that Google Books has made a greater contribution to EMEMH than a million university presses ever did/will – it certainly has had a far greater impact on my work than all the EMEMH works published by all presses in the past decade or more (and I’ve been keeping track, as my bibliographical analysis shows). In the spirit of their philanthropic side, Google made the content of 8 million digitized books available (in one form or another) to the public without commercializing it beyond unobtrusive linking to Amazon and selling ad space. Can publishers say the same when they go after schools for ‘fair use’ of their work – restricting the audience of a scholar’s work? Google Books is giving us far more than something useful “to some extent” – Google Books has revolutionized the field not only through access, but also through searchability, i.e. the ability to search within the books. Which is also exactly what the publishers and author’s guild have protested. Who has the scholars’ interests in mind here?

      As for the problems with Google Books, they seem small potatoes to me. I download every interesting book I find there, knowing that it might not be available (or findable) in the future. The metadata can be pretty bad at times, but I’ll gladly accept that if I can get free downloadable access to the 1000s of early modern books that I’ve only been able to read snippets of in rare book rooms over the years – my grad school career would’ve been revolutionized if I’d been able to actually read all those primary sources the histories kept mentioning. Even back in 2006, I never understood people complaining vociferously about poor scanning of some pages, lack of access to the API, and poor OCR for early modern texts. Google Books gives me 95% of the pages in 1000 books for free (pre-1923), versus the handful I’d have access to otherwise. Idealists talk about how great the Digital Public Library of America will be in 2020. Super. I’ll take Google Books in 2006 any day. For teaching as well: I can’t imagine how I would teach early modern Europe here at a small school like Eastern if I didn’t have Google Books for the students.

      From my authorial standpoint, I’d far rather give my book away for free and get a hundred free in return than the current system – I’d be a lot richer. Google isn’t the problem – Google doesn’t allow downloading recent books anyway, versus all the pirate sites where you can (or at least could) download my book for free. Academics will never earn squat from their academic books (unless they take the route that early modern Danish historian Paul Lockhart took and switch from Christian IV to George Washington). For academics, the increasingly-restrictive copyright laws insisted upon by publishers are the problem (laws which are hopefully loosening, given recent court cases).

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