Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2006 Issue

University of California Library Joins Google Book Search

Uc

In keeping with its motto,


By Michael Stillman

Search engine giant Google scored a major coup last month in its controversial effort to digitize the world's books when the University of California Library signed on to the project. Google has undertaken a massive project to create digital copies of many of the world's older books. It previously had several major libraries participating, including Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, Michigan, and New York Public. However, the University of California has over 100 libraries, and some 30 million-plus books. It is the largest research library system in the world. Google will not be scanning anything like 30 million volumes, but a few million seems to be a reasonable estimate.

The worth of this project to researchers is immeasurable. The ability to search not just book titles, but the material within the way Google searches the internet, will undoubtedly reveal a wealth of information otherwise virtually impossible to locate. The doors will open to a vast amount of hidden knowledge, and in time, everyone will have access to it, from the ease and comfort of their own homes. What could be less controversial than a project which offers so much to research and education, and courtesy of Google, is completely free?

Not so fast. Google Book Search has become one of the most controversial issues in the book-publishing field. Many see it as the written word's equivalent of Napster, the ubiquitous free music downloading service that the record companies were finally able to shut down after millions of copyrighted songs were "shared" freely over the internet (something which still takes place on other sites).

Many of the books being scanned are beyond controversy. Copyrights have expired on all works published prior to 1923. However, books after that date may still have active copyright protection. Not all of these are the basis of contention. Among those still officially protected, there are many about whom the holders no longer care. An obscure, seventy-year-old out-of-print book is never going to make any more money for its copyright holder anyway. Besides which, the legal holder may, at this point, be the author's grandchild who doesn't even know he/she owns a copyright. And, for someone wishing to obtain permission to republish, locating the copyright holder under such circumstances may be next to impossible. Imagine trying to track down who, if anyone, owns a copyright on some self-published book by an author who died three-quarters of a century ago. Such a book might be effectively lost to research because no one could find the copyright holder to ask permission to republish.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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