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To read comments to this article, go here
Ah! Google Books! Ah!
Thursday, August 31 2006 @ 02:55 PM EDT

As you may have read in the news, Google Books now has public domain books available for download, la Project Gutenberg, except Google is more conservative, making available in their entirety only really, really dead authors from antiquity, and PG draws the line at 1923. I assume that's because Google got sick of being hit with stupid lawsuits by people who seem interested in getting some of their money, so not only must the author be dead, all his near relatives, business partners, and publishers need to be gone too, and the work has to be for sure, for real, no dispute about it in the public domain. Like Shakespeare dead.

Here's a BusinessWeek look at Google Books and the new initiative. You can download the public domain works and you can full-text search, which ought to improve CEO speeches at conferences and luncheons and settle many family arguments too. I actually thought it was Shakespeare who wrote, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" until I searched for it in Google Books. The public domain books are called Full View books, so that is how to search for them.

Seriously, this is ... well, awesome. I know my beloved librarian grandmother would be thrilled, if she were still living. Anything that advanced knowledge and its accessibility was valuable in her eyes.

The world has something now it has never had before in the history of the world. It's that significant. And it's that simple. Computers make full text search possible for all the classics in the world. Just think of how teachers can use this tool. And researchers. And you and me! What came to my mind when I read the news is the famous haiku, when the poet Basho first saw the beautiful Matsushima islands, and was at a loss for words, so awe-struck was he at the beauty:

Matsushima ah, Matsushima!
Ah, Matsushima, ah!
Matsushima, ah!

I hope the publishers out there will stop and really think about what they are trying to block and instead find a way to join those of us already settled in comfortably in the digital world, so they can find creative ways to benefit from technological change. I want you to make money, but the fundamental truth that must be faced is this: computers are copying machines. That is what they do. There is no changing that, and trying to sit on them and lock them up is counterproductive for everyone. There are ways to make money in any environment, but that isn't the way in this one.

Please look for new ways to make money. You can. That is what Google did. And that's all Google did. They understood the tech and they worked with it, instead of against it. Hire some geeks, and let them inform you. Then you can make money too, using technology instead of fighting it. If the only way to stay in business is to sue people, you probably need to rethink the business plan. And if it's your customers you must sue to stay in business, then you are doomed, as the RIAA is slowly discovering. Unfortunately, they are slow learners.

DRM will ultimately fail, I believe, precisely because it goes against and negates what technology now knows how to do so beautifully. And your customers hate it. Please look for business models that take advantage of the new capability, instead of pretending it hasn't happened or that the clock can be turned back.

And don't forget, Google also makes available books released under Creative Commons licenses, such as this one, "The Rise of Open Source Licensing - A Challenge to the Use of Intellectual Property in the Software Industry," by Mikko Valimaki, which is licensed under the Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0.

Google Books is still beta, so here's some feedback for you. Titles that are long shouldn't be cut off. That's a small and fixable problem.

Google provides information on where to go to buy the book, if you'd prefer to have it in paper form, after you have read enough to know if you want to. Or you can download it and read it at your leisure or even print it out. It's a very good system, I think. People say no one will read a book on a computer, but I do. All the time.

Interestingly, Creative Commons is working on updating its licenses too, just like GPLv3, and they are debating a revised DRM clause. You might find it interesting to follow along.


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