The book search capability is a powerful tool that will allow anyone to perform keyword searches that will instantly retrieve references in hundreds and even thousands of books.
It is certainly a powerful tool for any researcher looking for any conceivable published reference to a name, a literary phrase, an historical event or any other knowledge nugget.
However, it also appears at first glance that there is a huge opportunity to violate the copyrights of published authors and university scholars.
This is why an association representing 125 university nonprofit publishers has written a letter questioning Googles right to digitize and provide search access to millions of books through its print book search project.
Google announced plans to digitize books in the collection of Oxford University, New York Public Library, Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan.
The publishers are particularly concerned that Google will not only be digitizing books in the public domain, but also copyrighted books from the Harvard, Stanford and Michigan libraries.
Its unclear whether any books from the library project are part of the search archive currently being tested. But the search results certainly seem comprehensive. A few quick searches showed that the print search feature is highly effective in pulling up hundreds of titles when searching for authors, historical figures or any surname.
And it is a fair question whether just the ability to pull up these references violates the authors copyrights if they havent specifically granted Google explicit permission to present them.
But in the end the potential benefits to authors and scholars will outweigh the concerns about copyright violations if Google is vigilant about ensuring that its search capability does not give users the ability to abuse and misappropriate copyrighted material.
While users can read the references and excerpts, they cannot print the scanned pages retrieved by the Google search engine. Nor can they copy and paste the material into another document.
This is no different from turning off the print and copy features of documents published in Adobe Acrobat files.
The search engine only presents about three pages containing the search key words. So it is not as though users can read an entire book or scholarly paper on a Google Web page.
While Google certainly needs to answer the obvious concerns of authors about whether they can expect their copyrights to be scrupulously protected, it appears that in the long run publishers and authors are more likely to benefit from the additional sales that can be generated from the promotional and advertising potential of this search capability.