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Google Book Search plans e-books

12 February 2007

In spite of publishers' and authors' uneasiness, Google Book Search is continuing to come to agreements with libraries and building up its collection of digitised material. The University of California, thought to have the largest research/academic library in the world, has now agreed to contribute selected works from its 100 plus libraries to Google Book Search.

Although the University says that: 'The digital copies of in copyright works will not replace books or the continual need for our libraries to acquire them' their rationale is clearly a cost one. The digital copies will mean that libraries will not need to have 10 or 20 different copies of a book that's in the public domain, thus freeing up money that can be used to buy more books and license more materials.

In the UK Microsoft are scanning 100,000 public domain books from the British Library this year. Lynne Brindley, its CEO, sees this as no more than a toe in the water, as the entire collection consists of 150 million books. She feels the library has no choice but to go with the technological flow to avoid becoming little more than a 'book museum'.

Whilst American university libraries, including the New York Public Library, Stanford, Harvard and Michigan, have bought into the scheme, American publishers and authors are fighting it. The Authors' Guild, supported by the Association of American PublishersThe national trade association of the American book publishing industry; AAP has more than 300 members, including most of the major commercial publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies, has started a class action suit against Google, on the grounds that Google Book Search is infringing copyright because the company has not asked for permission to digitise each individual book which is still in copyright. Publishers control these rights and they argue that there are real problems which affect authors' intellectual property at stake here.

In the meantime Google has moved on and is now planning to launch a system which would enable readers to download entire books to their computers to read on their computers or on mobile devices such as a Blackberry. The much-enhanced new Sony Reader presents an obvious platform for this.

So, does all this presage the end of the printed book as we know it? Only time will tell, but there is much uneasiness in the publishing world about what comes next, and publishers are beginning to take steps to ensure that when the digital revolution arrives, they will be in the driving seat. They are planning their own digital warehouses, which they want to be the source of digital material, rather than leaving it all to Google and Microsoft. But, to quote David Worlock of Electronic Publishing Services: 'Ultimately it's not up to Google or the publishers to decide how books will be read. It's the readers who will have the final say.'