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Nature News 1 12 2005


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Nature News 1 12 2005

  1. 1. NEWS FEATURE NATURE|Vol 438|1 December 2005 THE REAL DEATH OF PRINT Despite clashes with publishers over copyright, Google’s plan to make millions of books available online is turning the tide for efforts to digitize the world’s literature. Andreas von Bubnoff tracks the demise of the printed page. ishwas Chavan travels a lot. An V informatician based at the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India, he collects data on what types of animal live where in India to enter into a biodi- versity database. Yet the specimens he hunts for have neither fur nor feathers, but yellowing pages and ageing dustjackets. Much of the information Chavan seeks is in old, out- of-print tomes that are scat- tered around the world; about 2,500 of the 7,000 books he has unearthed were written in the first half of the nineteenth century. To find them, Chavan has spent years trailing around libraries. He dreams of the day when books such as these are scanned and made available scan and catalogue millions of books. able, or where and how it can all be coordi- C. DARKIN as digital files on the Internet. The move to digitize books is set to trans- nated and accessed. Chavan and other digitization visionaries form the worlds of publishers, librarians, The idea to digitize books and make them paint a future in which books no longer gather authors, readers and researchers. Obscure spe- available online has been around since the dust on shelves, but exist as interconnected cialist titles could find new readerships; librar- Internet’s inception in the early 1970s. When nodes in a vast web of stored literature, all ians and information specialists will have to the US Declaration of Independence was accessible at the click of a mouse. So instead of develop tools to catalogue and navigate this typed in and sent to everyone on a computer hunting for specific books, scholars could labyrinth of data; and authors and publishers network on the night of 4 July 1971, it marked search for specific information, customizing may soon have to start thinking in digital the birth of Project Gutenberg, the first book- searches to suit their needs. dimensions, just as website designers and digitization venture. A few years ago, Chavan’s dream seemed writers already do. Since then, the project’s 20,000 volunteers little more than a castle in the air. True, a num- have scanned or typed in about 50,000 out-of- ber of mostly volunteer-driven or publicly Bloody revolution copyright books, says its founder Michael funded projects had been scanning books and But revolutions are rarely bloodless and this Hart, who works in the basement of his home making them freely available on the Internet. one could soon get ugly. In the United States in Urbana, Illinois, and, like the project’s But most efforts were limited. authors and publishers are squaring up against volunteers, for free. In December 2004, the Internet search- Google for a legal fight over copyright. Opin- Projects such as this are driven by the ideal- engine company Google announced plans to ion is divided over whether the scanning pro- istic desire to make knowledge and literature change that. It said it would scan millions of jects being implemented by companies such as freely accessible to all, but also by the benefits books from five major libraries: the univer- Google and Amazon (see graphic opposite) of having book collections easily searchable. sity libraries of Oxford, Harvard, Stanford will hand control of the world’s literature to “Being able to find it online is pretty much the and Michigan, and the New York Public private enterprise — and, if so, what this could same as having it online,” says David Wein- Library. The announcement energized other mean. And with several independent scanning berger of the Berkman Center for Internet organizations in the United States and in projects under way, it is still not clear how and Society at Harvard Law School in Cam- Europe, which soon unveiled similar plans to much of the information will be freely avail- bridge, Massachusetts. 550 ©2005 Nature Publishing Group
  2. 2. NATURE|Vol 438|1 December 2005 NEWS FEATURE Assets such as searchability have prompted But Google doesn’t mention money in its libraries. But Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild the National Science Foundation (NSF) in announcement that it plans to make the con- in New York City argues that the act of scan- Arlington, Virginia, to get involved in an tents of millions of copyrighted books search- ning the works is copyright infringement no open-access enterprise called the Million able as part of its Google Book Search project. Its matter how the texts are used. Book Project. This is an international scan- spokesman, Nate Tyler, says Google’s motivation The outcome of the lawsuit will depend on ning effort with many participants, including is to include literature that is currently only the courts’ decisions over how the concept of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, available offline in its mission to make informa- fair use applies in the age of digital books and Pennsylvania. tion universally accessible. But the possibility the Internet. Meanwhile, the rest of the scan- Since the project began in 2002, about that the company could gain financially from ning world is watching from the sidelines, and 600,000 out-of-copyright books have been the move has raised hackles among US authors being careful to scan only books that are out of scanned, although only about half of them are and publishing organizations. copyright, or to obtain the publisher’s permis- currently available online (see graphic). The sion before scanning anything. scanning takes place in India and China, with Google’s plan has shaken up the digital- books being shipped there temporarily from “Google is in a class by itself book world in other ways too. For one thing, libraries around the world. because of the quantity of money many believe that its size and resources mean and the level of centralization.” Google can pull of this feat — so large-scale Made to fit repositories of digital books seem a more Searchability is also the main driving force — Daniel Greenstein realistic and immediate prospect than ever behind commercial plans to scan books, before. Google has also galvanized its competi- including texts whose copyright has yet to In the autumn of this year, the Authors tors, both public and private (see graphic) to expire. For example, if their products have Guild and the Association of American Pub- redouble their efforts, and has placed a been digitized, online booksellers can allow lishers filed a lawsuit against Google for copy- question mark over the future of libraries customers to search within books and browse right infringement. They complained that and librarians. a few pages before deciding to buy. In the Google hadn’t asked them for permission to “I think Google is in a class by itself because United States, with the publisher’s permission, scan copyrighted books. of the quantity of money and the level of cen- Amazon puts searchable digital data from Google has obtained the go-ahead from pub- tralization,” says Daniel Greenstein, librarian mostly copyrighted books online. Amazon lishers to include some copyrighted works as of the California Digital Library in Oakland, says that several hundred thousand books are part of its Book Search project, but not all. It California. “Google has paved the way, created currently available for searching. argues that it does not need to seek permission the appetite for this kind of activity, and anxi- Amazon also offers the option of purchasing for every book, because what it plans to do is ety on the part of libraries and publishers.” e-books and e-documents on its website, which permissible according to the ‘fair use’ exception can be viewed after downloading them to a of US copyright law. This allows copying for Out with the old portable reading device (see ‘Will flexible uses such as teaching, scholarship or research. But Michael Gorman, president of the Ameri- screens be the end of paperbacks?’). The com- Google will, for example, not make the full can Library Association, says he is not worried pany expects these services to drive additional text available, but only show ‘snippets’ of text that libraries could become obsolete. As well as sales. Its ‘search inside the book’ feature around the search results if a book is still copy- providing access to books, they serve as a place increases sales by 8%, the company says. Scien- righted. The company says that people are for people to meet and study, he says. And tific publishers, such as the US National Acad- more likely to buy or borrow a book if they can librarians’ expertise in information manage- emies Press also see increased print sales when search it this way, adding that the snippets are ment will still be needed. “We are not worried they allow their books to be viewed online. similar to the card catalogues found in about our own jobs,” agrees Dennis Dillon, C. DARKIN/N. SPENCER Funded to scan 170,000 books in many languages 551 ©2005 Nature Publishing Group
  3. 3. NEWS FEATURE NATURE|Vol 438|1 December 2005 Will flexible screens be the end of paperbacks? “It’s nice. It’s the size of a light like an LCD or LED screen. S. KAMBAYASHI/AP paperback book. It’s very light — I The pixels are microcapsules actually forgot I had it in my bag.” containing particles of black and The future of reading, according white ink with opposite charge. An to Theresa Horner, director of e- electric field pushes one or other book operations for the publisher colour to the surface, producing a Harper Collins, lies in neat IMAGE print-like effect. The device only electronic devices such as the gobbles energy when the display is Sony Librie she totes in her UNAVAILABLE refreshed. So the lifetime of handbag. Although some bookworms might baulk at the FOR COPYRIGHT batteries in such an e-paper system is measured in page-turns, thought of reading a novel on a screen, it might not be long before REASONS rather than hours. And the future? It’s likely to be portable electronic books flexible. In September, Philips revolutionize the book world in the unveiled the first working same way that Apple’s iPod prototype of an e-reader with a changed the music scene. rollable display, aimed not just at Almost any device can be used to e-books, but also at news reading read an e-book. Nick Bogaty, and Internet browsing. In the executive director of the ‘Concept Readius’ a grey-scale International Digital Publishing when gripped by a good plot. money in printing, and has the screen measuring about 13 Forum (formerly the Open e-Book There are also devices that advantages of online material. centimetres wide, again using E Forum) in New York thinks that the attempt to recreate a more familiar But the device that afficionados Ink technology, curls up inside a “vast majority” of people reading e- reading experience. Garth Conboy, drool over is the Sony Librie. slimline packet measuring books now are doing so on their president of eBook Technologies, Launched in Japan in April last year, 10 6 2 cm. PDAs or smartphones. The small, recounts how his company’s it is similar in size, shape and It might be worth waiting for. handheld devices that people use to devices, which are like small tablet- weight to a book, and is the first “We plan to start our production organize their lives can act as useful PCs with simple page-turning device to have a paper-like display. by the end of 2006, so I anticipate stores for reference books, or hold buttons, are supplied to about The display uses technology products coming into the market in novels that while away a long 15,000 students at a military developed by E Ink in Cambridge, early 2007,” says Hans Driessen, a commute. Fans of this approach say college loaded with their course Massachusetts, and works by spokesman for Philips. they stop noticing the screen size material. This saves the college reflecting light, rather than emitting Jenny Hogan associate director of the research services divi- founder of the Internet Archive, a non-profit Garnett, assistant director for Digital Libraries sion of the University of Texas libraries at organization in San Francisco that archives and Information Systems at the Smithsonian Austin. “The job is changing, which makes it web pages and other digital files. Although Institution Libraries in Washington DC, a con- even more fulfilling than it was before.” Google has never indicated that it plans to tributor to the OCA. But Gorman is worried that over-reliance claim ownership over its digitized material or For taxonomists such as Chavan, the OCA on digital texts could change the way people charge for search access, Kahle doesn’t want to is perhaps the most interesting scanning pro- read — and not for the better. He calls it the leave digital books entirely in the hands of pri- ject so far. Eight museums including the Nat- “atomization of knowledge”. Google searches vate enterprise. ural History Museum in London have formed retrieve snippets and Gorman worries that That’s why, in October, he announced the the Biodiversity Heritage Library Project, people who confine their reading to these formation of the Open Content Alliance which will collaborate with the OCA to scan short paragraphs could miss out on the deeper (OCA). This aims to build a permanent about one million volumes of biodiversity lit- understanding that can be conveyed by longer, erature, much of it out of copyright. narrative prose. Dillon agrees that people use But Matthias Ulmer, a German publisher e-books in the same way that they use web “Science is moving incredibly fast, who helped launch an e-book initiative by the pages: dipping in and out of the content. and scanning old books is a German Publishers and Booksellers Associa- complete waste of money.” tion, thinks that scanning old books is “a com- Best of both worlds plete waste of money”. “Science is moving Having a mix of both e-books and real books — Matthias Ulmer incredibly fast, even in the field of taxonomy,” could be the answer. A mix would certainly says Ulmer. Earlier this year, his association help solve that perennial headache for libraries archive of multilingual digitized text and mul- announced an initiative whereby some 100 — the lack of shelf space and cost of keeping timedia content, which, as far as possible, will German publishers are considering digitizing physical books. Ensuring that some libraries be freely accessible. about 100,000 newly published books by 2006. always keep a physical copy of a particular Like the Million Book Project, the OCA will Publishers will take their own digital raw data work means that they will be available through scan out-of-print books; the first few are and place them on a network of their own inter-library loans for readers needing a real already available online. The alliance hopes to servers. Scientists and others will then be able book, adds Dillon. rival Google’s project in terms of scale; among to access the books for a fee. Some of them are already dispensing with the groups helping to finance its scanning With 2005 seeing the birth of so many digi- hard copies. The University of Texas at Austin, efforts are Yahoo and Microsoft. Some tization projects, it might not be long before for example has about 10,000 copyrighted libraries who were reluctant to join the Million Chavan can realize his dream of hunting books and 300,000 out-of-copyright works Book Project for logistical reasons have signed for new specimens from the comfort of his that are available only as e-books, says Dillon. up to the OCA. “We did consider the Million armchair. ■ Another person to be energized, but also Book Project, but we were hesitant because we Andreas von Bubnoff is an intern in Nature’s alarmed, by Google’s move is Brewster Kahle, wanted to avoid shipping overseas,” says Tom Washington office. 552 ©2005 Nature Publishing Group