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British Library digitises 250,000 books

Google helps make 40million pages available for free, but not everyone's happy

British Library
Over 250 000 titles will be text-searchable online

The British Library and Google have teamed up to digitise 250,000 out-of-copyright books from 1700-1870. Google will cover the costs of digitisation, which probably run to millions of pounds, and make the content available on books.google.co.uk. It will also be available on the British Library website at www.bl.uk.

However, there are restrictions. The release tells us that "[Anyone] will be free to copy, share and manipulate the text for non-commercial purposes". Open content commentator Glyn Moody points out that by adding the non-commercial clause the digitised versions are kept out of the public domain. He blogs:

"These are materials that are in the public domain; public domain means that anyone can do anything with them - including commercial applications. So this condition of "non-commercial purposes" means one thing, and one thing only: although the texts themselves are public domain, the digitised texts are not (otherwise it would be impossible to impose the non-commercial clause).

"In other words, far from helping to make knowledge freely accessible to all and sundry, the British Library is actually enclosing the knowledge commons that rightfully belongs to humankind as a whole."

Simon Bell of the British Library told us: "Strictly speaking the digitised versions are not in the public domain, but of course the original texts are. There is absolutely no intention whatsoever to withdraw the hard copies of the books.

"There has to be a possibility of a return - financial or otherwise - on the money that Google has spent on this. Google have conveyed to us that their reasons for undertaking this project are not largely financial.

"The British Library is primarily interested in opening access as far as possible. We have a variety of different business models for doing that, and this is one of them. Once the contract has run its course in 15 years' time, commercial usage becomes legitimate."

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