Google begins offering free book downloads


August 31, 2006|By The Boston Globe

Just in time for the start of a new school year, the popular Google search service is making available thousands of classic books free.

For now, the Google Book Search service offers full downloads only of "public domain" books, whose copyrights have expired. These include many of the most famous titles of all time, such as the writings of Dickens, Shakespeare and Dante.

It's the latest milestone in Google's campaign to do for books what it has done for Web sites.

"Our goal is to create a comprehensive, full-text index of all the world's books," said Google Book Search group business product manager Adam Smith.

But Google is also providing brief "snippets" of copyrighted works by major publishers, outraging book publishers and authors who say the company has no right to reproduce them without permission.

In addition to famous titles, Google Book Search features many obscure and forgotten books by long-dead novelists and scholars that it obtained through contracts with libraries at Harvard University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Oxford University and the University of California. The New York Public Library also is participating in the project.

Google began offering its book search service in late 2004.

A visitor to can type in a few words and get a listing of various books in which the words appear.

But until yesterday, Google Book Search lagged behind other, smaller Internet services such as the Gutenberg Project or the Internet Archive, which have long offered free downloads of books in the public domain.

Now Web users can use Google's powerful servers to not only look up words in a book, but also download a copy - a process that can take from a few seconds to about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the book and the speed of the user's Internet connection.

The book arrives as a set of scanned images from a printed copy of the book, and some include original drawings, library markings and notes jotted in the margins by previous borrowers.

Google won't say how many books are in its index. But with the ability to scan books at six of the world's biggest libraries, Google's library of public domain titles could surpass that of the Gutenberg Project, which contains about 16,000 titles.

Meanwhile, Google rivals Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are establishing the Open Content Alliance, an alternative index of public domain books.

A number of major libraries have signed up to participate, including the Boston Public Library, the Johns Hopkins University, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

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