The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 41, October 11, 2009, Article 20


Arthur Shippee forwarded this New York Times article by Google cofounder Sergey Brin in which he defends Google Books as his company fights to save the copyright agreement that so much of the company's potential revenue rests on. It's worth reading in its entirety - here are a few excerpts. -Editor

Google cofounder Sergey Brin Because books published before 1923 are in the public domain, I am able to view them easily.

But the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down.

Because books are such an important part of the world's collective knowledge and cultural heritage, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, first proposed that we digitize all books a decade ago, when we were a fledgling startup. At the time, it was viewed as so ambitious and challenging a project that we were unable to attract anyone to work on it. But five years later, in 2004, Google Books (then called Google Print) was born, allowing users to search hundreds of thousands of books. Today, they number over 10 million and counting.

The next year we were sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over the project. While we have had disagreements, we have a common goal to unlock the wisdom held in the enormous number of out-of-print books, while fairly compensating the rights holders. As a result, we were able to work together to devise a settlement that accomplishes our shared vision. While this settlement is a win-win for authors, publishers and Google, the real winners are the readers who will now have access to a greatly expanded world of books.

For those books whose rights holders have not yet come forward, reasonable default pricing and access policies are assumed. This allows access to the many orphan works whose owners have not yet been found and accumulates revenue for the rights holders, giving them an incentive to step forward.

People can argue back and forth about Google's motives, but I have to agree that something sensible ought to be done about the copyrights to orphaned works, that huge block of books for which no copyright owner of record has come forth. Why should that situation doom the works to digital obscurity? Perhaps Google's settlement could use some modifications, but I think they're on the right track.

There really ought to be a pathway toward unlocking these works while still enabling the true copyright holder to come forth at a later date and claim their rightful stake. This turns the chicken-and-egg problem into an egg-and-chicken problem. Only if the orphaned works are FIRST digitized will many of the true copyright holders even learn of their existence.

Once revenues are created that can later be claimed, you can bet there will suddenly appear an army of miners panning for gold in them thar hills. And in the long run, that will ensure that there are fewer orphaned works in the first place, and those that remain orphaned will probably be the ones most deserving of that status. And throughout it all, more of the world's knowledge will be freed from the shackles of physical space.

Back in the day, at the height of the Internet bubble, I interviewed for the position of Product Manager for the search engine at Lycos. One of the interviewers asked me what I would do to improve the product. I told them I'd start digitizing the world's books. But those were the days when memory was still relatively expensive. I timidly proposed initially digitizing only the title, table of contents and index.

I got the job. A lot of my ideas, including this one, fell on deaf ears. But later came Google and orders-of-magnitude cheaper memory. Google Books is succeeding in its purpose, but we're only gettin' warmed up, folks. The millions of books digitized so far are only the tip of the iceberg.


To read the complete article, see: A Library to Last Forever (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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