Various writers' groups have come out swinging against Google Book Search. The general idea of Google Book Search is to give potential readers the opportunity to search through books for specific terms and view those instances in context. The primary issue the writers' groups -- and some publishing houses -- seem to be up in arms about is the "unauthorized copying" of copyrighted texts. Meanwhile, some major universities and some publishing houses have given Google permission to scan their texts, which is a major boon for researchers and scholars.
Some writers' groups have extrapolated beyond this immediate issue and sound almost alarmist in their language. A recent article in the Romance Writers of America Romance Writers Report outlines one of the arguments given by Paul Aiken of Authors Guild in testimony before a subcommittee on COmmerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, then concludes with the tantalizing question: "Who is going to buy a book if they can get it for free off the Internet?"
Having spend a decade in the technology industry and knowing how easy it is for a new technology to be either misunderstood or misrepresented, I decided to go see what was going on with Google Book Search. I spent a morning searching various terms (of course, I had to check on terms I knew were used in my own book published last March, just for grins) and decided the ultimate test would be to search on the term "romance." When Julie Beard's excellent The Complete Idiot's Guide to Romance Writing appeared as one of the books I could "browse," I clicked it. I have that book, and know that the word "romance" appears on almost every page. Would I be able to read or print or download vast numbers of pages?
Ah... no. I wasn't.
Here's what I found:
- I could view an entire page where the term "romance" appeared, but only because the publisher had given Google permission to display an entire page. (Other books allowed only a "snippet" of three lines to be displayed, because the publisher had not given Google permission to display the entire page. This is explained in the help files.)
- Even when viewing an entire page, I couldn't print the book page. I could print everything around the place where the copyrighted text was, but the copyrighted text itself was not printed.
- While there were over 200 instances of the word "romance" in Julie Beard's book, I was allowed to view only a few of them before Google told me, in an oblique way, that I'd seen enough.
But since that didn't happen, let's talk. What do you think about Google Book Search? Is it a useful tool for readers or a threat to writers' livelihoods?