jump to navigation
  • Problems Accessing Google Books Outside the US? June 8, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

    getting around google books
    There is a lot to be said in favour of Google Books, but there is also an awful lot to be said against: the appalling meta-data (I was once shown a book with ‘the Holy Trinity’ as author); the dismal quality of scanning (perhaps one in two books are ‘imperfect’); the permission or rather lack of permission for many modern works; the wholly inadequate pdfs (e.g. inability to cut and paste); the attempt to claim authorship of millions of pre-twentieth-century books… However, Europeans (and some other parts of the west) have a difficulty with Google Books that American readers won’t know about: absurd copyright restrictions. Typically, Google cuts off all American books at 1923. From 1923 onwards books are treated as if they are in copyright and snippets or pages are shown with that understanding. However, EU copyright rules are stricter and Google typically does not give full access to books after 1865! Americans, then, have full access to about sixty years of books that Europeans cannot enjoy. Why is this stupid? And how can those in the loving embrace of the EU get around this problem?

    Let’s start with the stupidity. Google would say in its defence that it has to respect the EU law (not least because the EU has been particularly aggressive in relation to Google). So what are those laws? There were many different Europeans laws on copyright that were then standardized in 1993 along German lines: seventy years from death; i.e. if I write a book in 2014 and die in 2015 then the book will not be out of copyright until 2085. The law was originally created in Germany to protect the rights of the families of servicemen who had died before their time in the Great War: ironically, though, given that Germany was the ‘model’ for the rest of the EU, the law was only ever unevenly enforced there. Since 1993 all European jurisdictions have had to deal with this (including jurisdictions like the UK where laws are followed anally and others like Greece were they are simply ignored) and only people who died before 1944 are now out of the game: that is to say their works can be reproduced without infringing copyright. Where does this leave Google? Well, it is possible that an author died in 1944 aged a hundred and that he had published his or her first book in their late teens in 1864. In that case Google would be infringing copyright, but that is unlikely to apply to more than one or two authors from the many born in the nineteenth century. Google is playing super safe then in cutting off prior to 1865. But Google has gone too far. It would take about a half minute per book to establish the death date of an author: this could be fed into the database in the 95% of cases where the death date is easily available and then an exact and legal calculation could be made.

    Google, of course, is not going to do this so what do Italians, Britons, Spaniards and all the other subject peoples of Brussels do? The simple answer is that they have to move outside the jurisdiction of the EU. What you can’t sell your house and buy up Idaho? Then you have to convince the internet that you live in Idaho even if you don’t. You need, in short, some form of internet anonymiser that will claim that you are in the US. Many people who read this will have no idea what an anonymiser is and even if they go away and look it up they will then feel intimidated about using one. But if you choose the right anonymiser things work very smoothly. A problem with anonymisers is that the free models tend to be rather difficult to use and often gift you dodgy advertising campaigns: no, for the last time, I don’t want a Russian bride… The other problem is that anonymisers often cap how much you can download and a fifty megabyte pdf is too much. I’ve now experimented with a dozen non-pay services and my best fit is Proxy List for Firefox. You will need a Firefox browser (still the best browser available imho) and then you will need to go and download the Proxy List plugin: you then only use it when Google is being awkward, taking care to click on a US provider for the five minutes necessary (if you click on a European flag you have defeated the whole point of the exercise). Let me ask one favour on the part of humanity more generally though. Every time you get a book that is not available in the EU try to make it available to a wider community. The easiest way to do this is to upload it onto www.archive.org, the greatest website on the planet. There you won’t get any corporate hissy fits about nineteenth-century copyright issues and four or five, or four hundred or five hundred people will thank you for it over the next decade. Other tips: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Just three reflections to finish this hopefully practical rant. First, the present blogger is no enemy of multinationals. Private companies can be wonderful things and the market is our best guarantor of freedom: but Google have established near monopoly conditions here and elsewhere and monopolies are the nemesis of open societies. Second, when you look at the next fifty years, it often seems that the race will be between the attempts of internet users to retain their freedoms online and the attempts of governments and their lackeys to hem in, control and perhaps neuter those freedoms. Forget, then, hoplites charging Persian immortals at Marathon or sons of Midwest farmers dying like Samurai at Midway. The next great battles will be private micro-conflicts and they will be online… Third, has Google Books, in any case, had its day? The 2013 ruling suggests not, but the authors are appealing…

    27 June 2014: Nathaniel writes in with some news on Australia. ‘Living in the U.S. myself I haven’t run across the Google Books issue with copyrights in the EU. However I have encountered a situation where a book I wanted was available as a free PDF on an Australian website, but was still under copyright in the U.S. The website had a notice that U.S. readers should not download the PDF since to do so would be a copyright violation. Not anxious in these days of mass surveillance to see how seriously the law was being enforced I decided to pass up the chance for a free copy.’ This was new to me. Thanks Nathaniel!