Google released the full text of more than 10,000 books, thousands of which came from the University’s libraries, on its Google Print website yesterday.

The University is part of the Google Print Library Project along with Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and the New York Public Library, all of which are providing Google with access to their libraries. Google’s ultimate goal is to make all of the world’s books readily available and searchable online.

But the legality of Google’s enterprise is in question because copyright law protects many of the volumes Google hopes to release online. The Authors Guild and five publishing houses have sued Google because it plans to provide limited access to copyrighted books.

The books that went online yesterday had expired copyrights.

While the entire text of copyrighted materials will be searchable, Google plans to only display the term being searched for within the document and the sentences preceding and following it for context. Google argues that this is permissible under fair use of copyrighted materials and will not take money away from the copyright holders.

“It’s a great big balancing act, and that’s what the courts will be considering,” Wilkin said.

University President Mary Sue Coleman supported Google in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

The University will continue its association with Google regardless of the legal squabbles, officials say.

“We stand behind Google,” University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said. “We entered the partnership with Google believing (Google Print) is completely legal, completely fair and does not infringe on copyright laws.”

Associate University Librarian John Wilkin said Google approached the University for the project because Google co-founder Larry Page, a University alum, had long expressed interest in digitizing his alma mater’s library.

To expedite the copying of University books, Google has a separate copying facility in the state, Wilkin said.

Google hopes to eventually copy all of the nearly 7 million volumes in the University’s libraries – whether under copyright or in the public domain.

The Authors Guild argues that by releasing the scanned books, Google takes money out of the hands of writers.

“It’s been tradition in this country to believe in property rights,” Authors Guild president Nick Taylor wrote in The Washington Post. “When did we decide that socialism was the way to run the Internet?”

Many of the volumes in Buhr Shelving Facility, a University facility for storing books that are out of circulation, have been copied so far, and those in the public domain are available on the Google Print website, Cunningham said.

Included in the volumes are many long-forgotten articles of historical value.

“When you go through stacks systematically, treasures turn up, things that people had forgotten about,” Wilkin said.

The treasures include a copy of “The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin,” published in 1818 and “The Emigrant’s Guide,” a series of letters from 1828 addressed to English natives considering immigration to the United States. Cunningham said the items also include travel accounts, Civil War regimental histories and French- and German-language books.

But Google is not only interested in the University’s extensive research library. The University is a leader in digital conversion technology and pioneered much of the technology Google uses, Cunningham said.

While University techniques are fast enough to copy one book per hour, Google’s processes are even more sophisticated.

“Imagine something as fast as using a camera,” Wilkin said. “You open a book, take a picture, turn the page, take another picture, and so on.”

Google’s methods also protect fragile books because the process does not open books wide when copying.

And Google’s digital captures are of quality akin to the originals.

“Google produces high-fidelity, high-resolution, large-scale capture in such a way that the images are a nearly permanent surrogate for most print materials,” Wilkin said.

These procedures make millions of books, long unavailable to the public, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

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