Even a quick examination of Googles new book-specific print search service that the company released for beta test Thursday shows why university and nonprofit publishing houses are worried about wholesale copyright violations.
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.
Searching for a New
Remember, Google hasnt created this book and library search capability just for the altruistic purpose of providing easier access to the worlds libraries. They are creating another advertising platform that will generate a new revenue stream. That is why Google is in business.
They are seeking a piece of the action thats currently held by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other online book dealers.
Google would like nothing more than to have publishers vying for the top spots in searches for the latest fictional potboilers, summertime thrillers and romances.
Prominent on every search page is the “Buy this book” section on the left-hand side of the page, with links to the books original publisher as well as to major online book dealers, as well as to Googles own Froogle online shopping site.
Also prominently listed is a button linked to the copyright information for every book listed in a search.
For example, if you pull up a reference to E.L. Cusslers textbook on “Diffusion Mass Transfer in Fluid Systems,” clicking on the copyright button will tell you instantly that it was copyrighted by “Cambridge University Press.”
But this brings up some of the natural shortcomings of the book search site. A Google print search is not the best way to bring up a quick listing of your favorite authors works.
For example, if you want to quickly bring up a list of all the books by fiction writer Clive Cussler, what you will get is a listing of every book ever published by a person named Cussler or every book or paper that has a reference to Clive Cussler.
But no doubt such prominent listings will appear once the worlds book publishers get a chance to buy advertising links for priority display of the latest works of their featured authors.
Publishers are likely to forget their concerns about copyright violations if Google print search helps increase sales and traffic to their own sites and the sites of major book distributors.
But Google, which has had to deal with a succession lawsuits from companies that claim that search engine results systematically violate their trademarks and copyrights, could find that its new search service offends a huge new population of copyright holders.
To avoid this pitfall, Google has to demonstrate that the scanning and archiving of this colossal volume of material truly does represent “fair use” of the material and that it will defend, not exploit, the copyrights, as if the company owned them itself.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology.