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Friday, August 18, 2017

Keeping the Google Book Project Alive

Google’s grand project to digitize every single book ran into a snag when authors and publishers objected and sued. Google prevailed in court, but the project stalled and left a digital database of 25 million books that “nobody is allowed to read,” according to author and programmer James Somer.

But he’s not entirely correct.

Libraries that partnered with Google for the project kept digital copies of their scanned work, which now make up about 95% of the content in the HathiTrust Digital Library, based at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The database is used to conduct research without the fear of copyright infringement, while students with disabilities can access the scanned work through the use of assistive technology.

“We couldn’t have done it without Google,” Mary Sue Coleman, current president of the Association of American Universities, said of HathiTrust. “The fact that Google did it made things happen much more rapidly, I believe, than it would have happened if universities had been doing it without a central driving force.”

The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) makes computational analysis of public-domain and copyrighted works from the collection possible. Work on copyrighted materials is done on Data Capsules, a service created by HTRC that allows for “nonconsumptive” research without violating copyright restrictions.

“I’m not a fan of everything Google, by any means,” said Paul Courant, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and the University of Michigan. “But I think this was an amazing effort that has had lasting consequences, most of them positive.”

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