With Google Books, Google scans the entire text of a book and stores it in a digital database. Users can then search all the books in the database—like they can the Internet using Google Search. Google Books is an ambitious project seeking to make the content of books as available and easily searchable as the content of the Internet. It’s also highly controversial.
For college students who struggle under the weight of college textbook costs, however, Google Books could potentially be a godsend. It already makes research easier, allowing students to search through a range of out-of-print books without visiting a library. If the book you need is in print, you can still identify it using Google Books and then find it at your college library or the bookstore. And over time, with more and more books available for free online, the cost of college textbooks may go down to a more reasonable level.
It’s not that simple now, however. Google Books currently offers only out-of-print, out-of-copyright books online in their complete form—available for free. If the book is not in the public domain—it’s not out of print and the copyright owner hasn’t given permission—you can only see a limited number of pages even though the full text is searchable. It isn’t likely that your professors will assign you to buy an out-of-print textbook—many colleges and textbook authors are looking to get the most money possible from college students,
and will put only the most current editions of their books on college syllabi.
While the one settlement over Google Books was rejected, it’s still possible that Google will eventually enter into an agreement with publishers that allows them to scan books fairly without violating copyrights.
Results from Google Book Search appear in both general web searches and through the specific Google Books website. If you click on a Google Books result, you can see full pages from the book—only if the book is out of copyright, out of print, or the owner of the copyright has given permission to Google to show the book. Out-of-copyright and public-domain books can be viewed fully and downloaded for free.
The reason for the controversy over Google Books is concern over copyright issues. Google has announced its intention to scan all of the approximately 130 million unique books that exist in the world by the end of the decade. This includes in-print, copyright-protected works. Currently, Google offers approximately 20% of these books online for free—and users have the option of buying a full digital copy. Some publishers do want these books to show up in online searches and claim the searches drive sales. However, other publishing companies want more control over who views their published works and when. The fact that Google requires publishers to “opt out” of its scans of library books has also caused conflict with the publishing world.
The most recent controversy over Google Books centers around academic research materials. In 2004, Google negotiated agreements with certain research libraries to scan their books and other materials—but didn’t get permission from the owners of the copyrights. The Author’s Guild brought a class-action lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement; in 2010, the judge rejected a proposed settlement that he felt would have given Google too much power to scan books without the specific permission of those who own the copyrights, as well as exempting it from certain objections from authors over future infringements.
While the most current settlement over Google Books was rejected, it’s still possible that Google will eventually enter into an agreement with publishers that allows them to scan books fairly without violating copyrights. If that happens, college students will have a wealth of academic knowledge at their fingertips—and might wind up paying less for college textbooks in the long run.