Why the Controversy Over Google Book Search?

THE booklover is distinguished from the reader as such by loving his books and from the collector as such by reading them He prizes not only the soul of the book but also its body which he would make a house beautiful meet for the indwelling of the spirit given by its author Love is not too strong a word to apply to his regard which demands in the language of Dorothy

In light of the recent controversy over Google's Book Search program, I have been exploring the features that this remarkable service provides.

Simply summarized, Google Book Search is aimed at digitizing millions of books from around the world and allowing people to do full-text searches on these books.

Proponents of this system say that Google Book Search will improve libraries by helping people to find the books that they need faster and more accurately. I whole-heartedly agree with this opinion, as the search engine currently in use at my local library has great shortcomings. It almost never works correctly when I am trying to find a book that I know exists. When it comes to finding new books it could never be of any serious use. In contrast, Google Book Search is able to use the power of the Google search engine to provide better search results than most other search engines could.

Opponents of Google Book Search say that Google's application of the fair use principal should not be allowed, as it will result in a potential book search monopoly that will force libraries and universities to purchase expensive subscriptions to Google Book Search so as to better serve their customers. They also object to the fact that Google is making money off of showing ads along with portions of the books that they have digitized. In addition, there is a considerable amount of uproar regarding "orphaned books."

Basically, depending on the book and its copyright status Google Book Search responds in different ways. On the inside, when a user searches for a particular term, Google searches through all the digitized books, including the full text of copyrighted books.

When the results appear, Google shows a short two or three sentence section of copyrighted books to show the search terms in their context. For books where the copyright has expired, or the copyright holder has granted permission to show a portion of the book, Google Book Search may also show digitized images of the book's pages.

A key factor in the issue is what Google does about "orphaned books." These are books in which the copyright holder can not be located. Technically they are still under copyright, but there is no copyright holder to grant permission to show portions of the book in Google Book Search. Legislation aims to give Google the right to "adopt" these "orphaned books" and show them in search results. Later if the copyright holders show up they can receive some compensation, but Google won't have to pay a copyright infringement fee. As such fees are usually $150000USD each this is a big boon for Google.

Opponents of this method of operation claim that this "orphaned books" legislation will work for Google, but it will not allow other search companies to copy the idea, because they will not be covered by the protection afforded to Google. Other companies would be in danger of having to pay copyright infringement fees and so Google is violating anti-trust laws and creating a monopoly.

Personally, I don't mind if Google creates such a monopoly, because they are in the best position to provide the best results to users. Because of its size Google is dependable and able to provide its services for free. Google already handles 90% of the web search engine sector, but they still don't charge for web searches. Why then would a monopoly on physical book searches be a bad thing? Google can do it better, so why complain?

I think that Google Book Search is a great idea. Not only will Google be able to further improve their search functionality if they are able to digitize and analyze books, but it will also be able to better direct search engine users off of web pages and into real, physical books. Digitizing textbooks and scientific books will even be able to help students to find physical research materials for school projects.

For publishers and authors Google Book Search is great because it is like free advertising for their book. For example, if a search engine user is searching for information on a certain subject they may discover that a real book answers their question better than any web pages that they can find on the internet. While viewing the portion of the book made available on Google Book Search they decide that they like the book and want to purchase it. Convenient links then direct the person to a book seller where they can purchase the book. Publishers and authors still receive their money and royalties.

What is more, according to Google, publishers even make money off of the ads that Google places along with book results. From the Google Book Search website:

Fiction: Google is freeloading off people's books by making money from ads on Google Book Search pages and not sharing it with the copyright holders.

Fact: Google Book Search provides tremendous benefit to authors and publishers at significant cost to Google, the opposite of freeloading. We don't place ads on a specific book result unless the copyright holder has given us permission to display portions of the book and wants to show ads. When we do show ads, the majority of the revenue is given back to the copyright holder. In other words, we profit from Google Book Search ads only to the extent that our publishing partners do as well.

Out of all the things that I like about Google Book Search, though, there is one that appeals to me most of all: the ability to share clips from books. The clip at the beginning of this post is powered by Google Book Search. It is taken from a very old book. (Copyright 1916) The full text of this fascinating book is made available free of charge, and because the copyright has expired you can even download a PDF ebook version of the book.

I think that this is a great feature, because it allows book blogs like Inkweaver Review to share portions of books.

Text not available

Many of these old books contain amazing gems of prose that would be completely forgotten if it was not for Google Book Search bringing these older works to light in their search engine. In the future I plan to share more of my Google Book Search findings with readers of Inkweaver Review.

I appreciate the services provided by Google Book Search, and I sincerely hope that I am able to see this amazing effort develop and expand in the future.

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Inkweaver Review 2009-05-10T09:23:00-05:00

3 replies so far. What are your thoughts?

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This is a great post! I knew a little bit about Google Book Search, but this filled in a lot of gaps for me. UW-Madison libraries (my school) is part of getting books digitized for Google, which I think is pretty neat.

NathanKP said...

Thanks for commenting Kim. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post.

It is pretty neat to think about all those books being indexed and available for online research. I think that most people support Google Book Search, its just a few that don't like it.

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