Google Lands University of Virginia for Book Search Project
By Michael Stillman
Google has landed another partner for its massive and controversial book scanning project. This time it is the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1825. The University Library will make its 5 million-plus volumes available to Google for inclusion in its database. Virginia joins eight other major libraries, including Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, University of Michigan, and New York Public, in participating in the project. However, unlike some libraries, Virginia has placed no limitations on the use of its collections. They are permitting Google to scan both out of copyright and in-copyright material, the latter being the category that has generated much controversy.
Material out of copyright, generally anything published before 1923, is freely in the public domain and causes no controversy. It is later material that causes a problem. This may still be under copyright protection. While Google shows searchers the full text of books out of copyright, it only shows basic information plus a sentence or two of text for material still protected. Searchers are then pointed to libraries or booksellers to seek printed copies of the book if they wish to read more. Google does not ask permission of copyright holders to provide this limited information, but will remove it from their database if the holder so requests.
This is not sufficient for some publishers. The problem, for them, is that Google is copying the full texts of their protected works, even if they only display a few lines. While Google insists that what they do only helps to sell more printed copies of the books, the publishers remain focused on the idea that their books are being copied, and apparently that is a principle on which they are unwilling to bend. Perhaps they worry where a first break in the copyright armor will lead.
In a recent news release, the University of Virginia discusses the copyright issue as follows: "Book Search was specifically designed to comply with copyright law... For books protected by copyright, scholars will be able to discover relevant books via key-word searches, and they will get basic background (such as the book's title and the author's name), at most a few lines of text related to their search, and information about where they can buy or borrow a book. If publishers or authors don't want to have their books digitized, they can be excluded." Anyone who has followed the controversy will recognize that wording exactly mirrors Google's position. The University of Virginia is obviously foursquare in Google's corner on this one.