Google launches controversial digital book site

Thu Nov 3, 1:49 PM ET

Google launched its controversial effort to digitize millions of books for online viewing -- but said it would limit access to any copyrighted material for now.

The Internet search giant said the initial collection will include "public domain" works -- those without current copyright protection -- in an apparent effort to ease concerns that have led to legal challenges.

"Because they're out of copyright, these cultural artifacts can be read in their entirety online at, where anyone can search and browse every page," Google said in a statement.

"They are fully searchable and users can save individual page images."

The works being made available include US Civil War regimental histories and early American writings from the University of Michigan; congressional acts and other government documents from Stanford; works of Henry James from Harvard; and biographies of New York citizens and other collected biographies from the New York Public Library.

Google said the material being offered now represents "just a small fraction of the information that will eventually be made available as a result of Google Print."

The company did not say how it would respond to issues of copyright if it goes ahead with plans to offer online versions of more current books. Google said in its online blog this week it would resume scanning of in-copyright works.

In the initial version of Google Print, which is integrated into the Google search engine, users can search the full text books Google has scanned and view a "card catalog-like entry with brief excerpts of their search term in context."

It added, "Users can only see more of any book they find if the book is out of copyright or if the publisher has given explicit permission to show full pages of a limited portion of the book."

Google's announced plan to offer online versions of copyrighted books has prompted a series of lawsuits, including from authors and publishers.

"Our goal is to make these public domain books and the knowledge within them accessible to the world," said Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management at Google.

"Any researcher or student, whether they're in New York or New Delhi can now research and learn from these books that previously were only available in a library. This underscores the value of Google Print and the work we're undertaking with our library partners."

Google Print, announced last year, has two separate components, including the "library project" in cooperation with several key US and British libraries, and the "publisher project" program that aims to offer additional books.

Adam Smith, a product manager for Google Print, indicated in the Google blog that the company hoped to work with publishers to get permission for displaying their works.

"We've already had great success working with publishers directly to add their works to our index through our Publisher Program, and when we add books with publisher permission, we can offer more information and a much richer user experience," he said.

Since Google made its announcement, Yahoo and Microsoft have announced similar plans but have said they would not violate rights of copyright holders.

Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.