In the October 8, 2004 newsletter, I wrote about Google's plans to scan millions of books and to make them available to everyone on the web at no charge. You can read that article here and a more detailed follow-up article in the December 15, 2004 newsletter here. The announcements never specifically mentioned genealogy books but with millions of books to be scanned, one can easily assume that some percentage of the books will have genealogy value. Having this wealth of information easily available to all on the web seems to be a welcome addition to a genealogist's tools. That is, "welcome" to most people but not to everyone.
A group of academic publishers is challenging Google Inc.'s plan to scan millions of books because of fears that the ambitious project will violate copyrights and stifle future sales. In a letter to Google, the Association of American University Presses described the online search engine's library project as a troubling financial threat to its membership - 125 nonprofit publishers of academic journals and scholarly books.
The plan "appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale," wrote Peter Givler, the executive director for the New York-based trade group. The association asked Google to respond to a list of 16 questions seeking more information about how the company plans to protect copyrights.
The association of nonprofit publishers is upset because Google has indicated it will scan copyright-protected books from three university libraries - Harvard, Michigan and Stanford. Google also is scanning books stored in the New York Public Library and Oxford in England, but those two libraries so far are only providing Google with "public domain" works - material no longer protected by copyrights.
The association is very worried about Google's scanning project. "The more we talked about it with our lawyers, the more questions bubbled up," he said. "And so far Google hasn't provided us with any good answers."
University-backed publishers fear there will be little reason to buy their books if Google succeeds in its effort to create a virtual reading room. These publishers are asking the hard questions about Google's book scanning project. The university presses depend on books sales and other licensing agreements for most of their revenue, making copyright protections essential to their survival.
I have not heard any questions from genealogy publishers, but one has to believe that they will also be concerned. Many of today's genealogy publishers have active businesses republishing old, out-of-copyright genealogy books. If the same books become available on the web free of charge, the genealogy publishers will see one of their best marketplaces evaporate. Genealogy publishers usually exist on thin profit margins and anything that threatens that marketplace could be disastrous.