Google, copyright and technology

Upon reflection, the announcement that Google is going to add books in major libarary collections to its database may not be as encouraging as it seems. The fact full text will be available only for those books old enough to no longer be under copyright shows once again the stuggle between our copyright laws and current technology.

While Google plans to scan the full text of copyrighted works, only short excerpts will be available online. Works published between 1923 and 1977 retain copyright for 95 years. The copyright for books written after 1978 by a natural person last for the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death. Thus, you will be unlikely to read full-text works on, for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall and, in fact, may not be able to find much to show the USSR ever existed. Still, depending on how searchable the full text of copyright works will be and what excerpts can be obtained, this will be a useful tool for locating resource material. And, hopefully, it will expose us to tremendous but otherwise “forgotten” works.

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