Perspectives

A Little History

At the end of the Middle Ages, in a small town in the Rhine Valley, an unassuming metalworker tinkered with a rickety wine press, metal alloys and oil-based ink. The result of his labors was an invention that took the world's information and made it exponentially more accessible and useful.

Six centuries later, we're seeing the same kind of innovation in the way we access information. Every day, with a few keystrokes on a computer, people are doing more than simply visiting their favorite web pages. Like Gutenberg, they are expanding the frontiers of human knowledge.

This same philosophy lies behind Google Books. We believe a tool that can open up the millions of pages in the world's books can help remove the barriers between people and information and benefit the publishing community at the same time. Many of the world's largest publishers have joined our Partner Program so that readers everywhere can discover their books. These partnerships are very successful, and the program continues to grow.

Yet some of these same publishers have filed suit to stop our Library Project. In that project, we're partnering with libraries to scan both public domain and in-copyright books. We carefully protect copyright holders by making sure that when users find a book under copyright, they see only a card catalog-style entry providing basic information about the book and no more than two or three sentences of text surrounding the search term to help them determine whether they've found what they're looking for.

So why has such a universally useful tool become so controversial? Because some in the publishing community question whether any third party should be able to copy and index copyrighted works so that users can search through them, even if all a user sees is the bibliographic information and a few snippets of text, and even if the result is to make those books widely discoverable online and help the authors and publishers sell more of them.

Some of our critics believe that somehow Google Books will become a substitute for the printed word. To the contrary, our goal is to improve access to books – not to replace them. Indeed, we're working closely with publishers to develop new tools and opportunities for selling books online.

Copyright law is supposed to ensure that authors and publishers have an incentive to create new work, not stop people from finding out that the work exists. By helping people find books, we believe we can increase the incentive to publish them. After all, if a book isn't discovered, it won't be bought.

That's why we firmly believe that this project is good news for everybody who reads, writes, publishes and sells books.