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October 9, 2009

Sergey Brin on Google Books Settlement

There's been a lot of talk about the Google Books settlement that would allow Google to provide access to out-of-print books in the US. This would unlock a lot of valuable information and would make it available in the Google Books interface.

New York Times published a thoughtful op-ed piece by Sergey Brin called "A Library to Last Forever", which tries to explain why the settlement is beneficial to everyone.
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. (...)

[Some] have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, or asserted that it would limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort. The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns. Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources.

{ via Tom Stocky }


  1. Books are allways the best friends, and Google is doing wonderful work, our wishes,

  2. That is a great move from Google it will provide a interface to rediscover the whole new world which has been left behind.

    Google Rocks

  3. Google continues to be trend setters. If it were an easy task to do someone would have thought and done so years ago. People may challenge Google's "Do no Evil" policy and in all fairness Google has yet to seriously make people think other wise. I doubt that they would want ruin that image.

    I am sure there are some purists who will say that computerizing all of these books is tragic and or in some way not good. However it is more tragic to not have the ability to ever see or be able to refer to these works ever again. This is NOT being done to save people the trip to their local library or do away with the Dewey Decimal System.

    Books contain massive amounts of knowledge and like the above people have said I could not think of a better company to build an interface or a more respectful company to do it.

  4. This is a wonderful effort, preserving and giving easy access to a vast collection of written works.

    Keep up the great work Google.

  5. It's all well and good to digitize & provide access to books in the public domain, even if this might compete with hardcopy publishers.

    I personally value out-of-print books and my library has a lot of them (I haunt the few second-hand bookstores still around). However, these are still under copyright and Google's distribution of these books is questionable without providing remuneration to the copyright holders - the original authors.

    Google has offered a settlement which individual copyright-holders can opt into or out of. I cannot speak for publishers, but I assure you the overwhelming sentiment in the writing community is to reject the offered terms and ask the court to force Google to renegotiate new terms.

    Another issue is that if an author does not specifically Opt Out, he/she Opts In by default. Not the best public relations approach.

    I am an author myself and my works to date have been minor and will never be best-sellers, so I don't mind them being Googlized - might actually get more readers that way.

    However, when I retire from the day job and start to write more seriously, I might not want Google providing for free something I could get money for.

  6. Flying to a library is a bit hyperbolic, IMO. If you have any association with a library near you, many libraries will do inter-library loan. Searching a majority of libraries is easy by using

    I look forward to accessing out-of-print books via google books, but it is more like a different patch to a difficult problem than a definitive solution.

  7. alex could you please tell us what this is:

  8. @ off-topic anonymous:
    a Linux distribution, but not from Google

  9. Google isn't the only game in town. Take a look at, they have almost one million books available.

  10. There's also the Gutenberg Project - but it's all public domain stuff.

  11. More book = more education.
    Go google all of the ways of yours.Don't stop.Non-stop!

  12. Personally, I think this should be a library of Congress sort of approach.. Recently Google got my attentions and efforts w/ their "Notebook" program only to can it a few months later. The impression given was that nothing is permanent on the Internet, and Google needs to be included there.

  13. Yes, everybody may fear the service will might be gone like Google Notebook. I wish one day, there will be an ISO standard for such effort, and one day such project of Google could be moved to a separated entity similar to Mozilla Foundation, which ensure the immortality.

  14. Sergey makes a number of assertions, some true, others half-so, but most important to keep in mind is that Google is a public company and therefore legally beholden to its shareholders - not the public. For all of the enormous benefit that Google has and will continue to provide, Jerry Yang's recent adventures at Yahoo serve as a warning.

    It is unfortunate that the inherent costs and even lack of vision prevented the Library of Congress, the nation's library, from undertaking such a project. The movement to digitize information and knowledge work will plainly move forward with or without Google's efforts as technologies improve and the marginal costs for digitizing items decrease.

    Google could still provide something to the nation of enduring value: namely, free digitized editions of all orphaned works, and all other out of copyright works. Andrew Carnegie enabled education and literacy through the technology of the book. Google could make libraries partners rather than customers, but this would require that Google's adjust its position ever so slightly.

  15. No rational person objects to the books being digitized and provided to the public. The issue is how Google handles copyrights. Authors are justly entitled to some profit from their work - that's why copyright exists.

    Authors generally wouldn't object to a 'fair use' segment of a book being presented - it's good/free advertising and some of us might even be willing to pay for it.

    We just don't want our work being given away.The feeling among most authors is that Google Books would siphon off potential book-buyers without properly compensating the authors.