Saturday, November 05, 2005

Books & Internet (A compilation of recent news)

There has been a flurry of news related to initiatives that try to make books accessible via the internet - time for a compilation.

For some time now there had been initiatives to digitize books and to make them accessible on the internet; initiatives like the Internet Archive, the The Internet Library at the University of California, San Francisco or the digitalisation initiative of the Library of Congress. For some reason these projects never really became very popular and propably also lack the resources to scan a significant percentage of books.
Then during the dot-com boom a lot companies believed that traditional books will disappear soon and will get replaced by e-books - something that still hasn't happened. There is still some market for e-books, but e-books are nowhere close to replacing the traditional book. More succesfull where services like the Oreilly's Safari that was introduced in 2001 and that offers online access to a large number of technical books. The next big step was Amazons "Search inside the book" functionality that was finally released in October 2003.

The recent flurry of activity started when Google first announced its initiative to offer search inside books (August 2004) and then to scan books from a couple of large university libraries without consent from the copyright holders (December 2004). This initiative ran into a lot of opposition, mostly from publishers / authors but also from some european (mostly french) politicians that feared that Google Print will accelarate the americanisation of the global culture. At one time Google stopped scanning books to give publishers some time to opt-out of the scanning process - an offer that wasn't used by many publishers because they hold the oppinion that Google must not scan any books unless they have explicit consent of the publishers to do so (opt-in). Many people, however, say that opt-in cannot be the solution[very interesting article] because a large number of books (75%) is neither in the public domain nor commercially exploited and for a large number of these the publishers propable don't even have the rights for digital distribution. It is unlikely that the publishers would be willing to spend money to get these rights and so the majority of books would never opt-in to get scanned - not because someone does not want them to be scanned, only because its not worth to spend the time and money needed in order to opt in.
Since Google did not back down the american Authors Guild sued google over alleged copyright infringement on a massive scale. Google maintains that it respects copyright and that allowing people to search books without giving them access to more than a few sentences is "fair use".

Not to be outdone by Google Microsoft announced that it will offer MSN Book Search in cooperation with the Open Content Alliance. The Open Content Alliance had been founded just weeks earlier and strives to make content freely accessible. Besides Microsoft the OCA includes Yahoo!, Oreilly and others. Unlike Google Print the OCA takes a more careful approach when it comes to copyright - for now only scanning books that where not under copyright anyway.
In another development a group of German publishers announced that they will build their own system to make book content accessible - this system working on a peer2peer basis that allows the publishers to keep full control of their books.
Meanwhile Google said that they are expanding Google Print to some european countries.
Finally Amazon, propably shocked by all the big companies moving into its terrain, develops a feature to allow consumers to buy online access to (parts) of books. A feature that is also under development at Google.

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