Copyright Concerns Delay Google Library Project

Scanning of many books halted until November

Google has temporarily stopped scanning copyrighted books from a number of libraries—including Harvard’s—to give publishers time to opt-out of its ambitious project to make millions of books searchable online.

However, many publishers—who have opposed the Google Print Library Project on legal grounds since it was announced in December—say that Google’s decision to halt scanning until Nov. 1 does not go far enough, as Google still plans to eventually make copies of books without explicitly getting permission from copyright holders.

Google began scanning books in the Harvard library collection in early June, with the goal of scanning a total of 40,000 books. The books are being scanned on campus, under the supervision of library staffers.

Google is also scanning books from the collections of Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library.

The Google Print Library Project enables users to view the full text of books that are not under copyright, such as books printed before the 1920s in the United States. For books that are under copyright, users can view short snippets of text surrounding their search term and are given information on how to find the book in stores or libraries.

The project, along with a similar initiative, the Google Print Publisher Program, can be found at print.google.com.

Adam M. Smith, the Google Print Project Manager, announced the decision to suspend the scanning of copyrighted books in early August on Google’s corporate blog. He wrote that the scanning would stop to allow publishers time to inform Google of books they did not want included in the project.

“We consulted with a variety of constituencies and ultimately decided that this new approach would best balance the rights and needs of users and publishers,” Smith wrote. “[T]hose publishers who don’t want to take advantage of this service can now simply tell us which books they’d like us to exclude.”

Smith’s announcement did not satisfy publishers, however, who argue that they are being denied their legal right to control who makes copies of their books.

“Google, an enormously successful company, claims a sweeping right to appropriate the property of others for its own commercial use unless it is told, case by case and instance by instance, not to,” wrote the Board of Directors of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), a major trade group, in an Aug. 19 statement on their website.

But the AAUP is glad to have more time to negotiate with Google as a result of the moratorium, said the group's communication manager, Brenna McLaughlin.

“The fact that the conversations are continuing... is a very good sign,” she said in an interview. “So much can change in the next couple of months because we do have this time to work on a solution to the problem.”

And while copyright issues need to be resolved, McLaughlin said that most of the AAUP’s members support the idea behind the Google Print Library Project because it will draw attention to their books.

“This is a very seductive ideas for the individuals that make up the industry,” she said. “It is very much something that the industry wants to support.”

Meanwhile, Google is continuing to scan books from Harvard collections that are not under copyright, said Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba ’53, who is director of the Harvard University Library.

“Our estimate is about a quarter to a third of the books [in our libraries] are not under copyright,” Verba said in an interview.

Regarding the future of the project, Verba said he expects Google to resume scanning books under copyright, but that nothing is certain.

“It is frankly hard to predict,” he said. “It's in an evolving state right now.... Copyright laws are incredibly complicated.”

But Verba added that he is very excited about the project's ability to fight the growing notion that “all the world’s knowledge” can be found on websites.

“[The project] has people go to Google and find references to books,” he said. “That’s the reason I think it's great.”

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.