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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Google Book Downloads

Search Engine Watch reports that Google now offers a PDF download for some of their scanned books. The “full view” option from Google Book search homepage is a good start to find public domain books like Dante’s Divine Comedy, though not all full view books feature the download button.

The PDF you download – which contains a “hosted by Google” watermark on every page, which feels a bit weird on classic works – will start with the following statement:

This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world’s books discoverable online.

It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that’s often difficult to discover.

Offering books as free downloads is a nice move (Project Gutenberg has been doing this for many years), but Google also includes a usage guideline which requests that you only make non-commercial use of the files, and that you do not remove the watermark. However, works in the public domain can be used commercially, and mixed and mashed, by everyone. Does Google have the legal right to restrict usage of public domain works? Does scanning a book, converting it to PDF and then hosting it change a work’s copyright?

[Thanks Didier Durand and David Hetfield.]


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