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Google Books and the Public Domain

I’m looking for an obscure 1917 book by the philosopher and Unitarian minister W. Tudor Jones called the Spiritual Ascent of Man. W. Tudor Jones is mentioned by a Japanese philosopher and pragmatist Sugimori Kôjirô in a separate 1917 book I’m looking at here today in the rare book collection at Harvard. I’m doing some research on Sugimori and I suspect he was influenced by Jones. I wanted to read the Jones book and was delighted to discover that Google books has it! How wonderful, I thought, this will save me a trip to the Divinity school library, where they have a hard copy.

Yet again Google books has showed me how powerful it has become as a tool for researchers. However, when I go to the Google Books copy and view the book, in the right hand margin it says, “Copyrighted Material” and restricts my viewing to a limited number of pages.

When I go to the copyright information at the beginning of the book, it says, “Copyright, 1917 by W. Tudor Jones” and at the bottom of the page it says the publisher is “The Knickerbocker Press, New York”

Here we have a book, copyrighted in 1917 that has been published in the United States. According to this handy chart over at the Cornell Copyright Information Center without condition all books published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Why then does Google deny the visitor access to the remainder of the book?

The most likely answer is that Google has some connection to the book via Kessinger Publishing, which sells reprints of rare books. Have they copyrighted their scan of the book? If you look at the Google introductory page for the book, it lists Kessinger as publishing and copyrighting the book in 2003.

Projects like Google Books and even more, the Gutenberg Project are wonderful resources for research. At Gutenberg’s archive, for example, I was able to download a full copy of a book by Jones examining the work of a German philosopher, Rudolph Euken. However, in the case of Google books, I’m annoyed to see so many books that should be fully in the public domain are showing up as copyrighted. At the Google blog entry on public domain books in Google Books they excitedly announce that you can find books out of copyright by searching for books with the tag “steam engine date:1500-1923″ That is fine and it shows up tens of thousands of books from this period. However, the book I searched is also published before 1923 but like many other books I have found published from this period on Google Books, it is “copyrighted material.” Presumably, Google will now be content to have a 2003 “copyrighted” scan of a public domain 1917 work in its collection.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. jai kasturi | 2006.1.18 at 16:45 | Permalink

    those bastards!
    its a googly googly googly googly world.

  2. Owen | 2006.1.18 at 17:22 | Permalink

    Hmmm… Google are funny aren’t they. Everything they do seems pretty damn good on the surface, but scratch it a little bit… I mean, it is a good thing that they’re doing this Google Book thing, but wouldn’t it be so much better if there was the funding and motivation for an international digital library project on a massive scale that was entirely not-for-profit? I know Project Gutenberg is doing this to an extent, but it obviously can’t match the spending power of Google.

  3. Carleen | 2006.1.19 at 12:57 | Permalink

    I think Owen has it about right. I think Google Book search sounds better than it really is. In their help section they repeatedly state that Full View is possible for books out of copyright. But they also constantly emphasize that the “aim of Google Book Search is to help you discover books and learn where to buy or borrow them, not read them from start to finish. It’s like going to a bookstore and browsing – with a Google twist.” Right, then.
    I don’t really know for sure but maybe the problem with your book does have to do with the fact that it was re-published by another publisher in 2003. I think most of the scans currently provided by Google Book Search come from digitization projects at certain libraries. These titles will include a “find it at the library link.” There’s apparently a seperate publishers project still in the making (see Library Journal 1/15/06, hope html works in these comments). Maybe you’re book will be part of that, I really don’t know. Whole thing sounds squishy to me.

  4. Muninn | 2006.1.19 at 13:16 | Permalink

    Hey thanks sis!

  5. Comet | 2009.11.4 at 9:20 | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, the current copy of The Spiritual Ascent of Man on Google Books is copyright-free.