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Friday, September 18, 2009

There Really IS a Public Domain

The other day, I was researching several sources including Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science.  Although this book, originally published in 1913, is part of the public domain, no copies were readily available in a nearby library.  I anticipated pulling out a credit card to get an inexpensive, used copy from Alibris or half.com for my bookshelves.

After running a Google book search, I found a familiar list of links to dealers along the left side of the page, where the book might be purchased.  This time, and for the first time in my experience, I found an additional link which allowed me to download the entire book in PDF format.  All 578 pages, just as they would appear in a paper form.  Right there, right now.

As most professors already know, Google Books' digitization project was the subject of copyright infringement allegations, and is currently in the process of settlement. This has been comprehensively documented on The Laboratorium by James Grimmelmann.  As James Boyle has observed,* the settlement may not be perfect and some of these problems may lie in the administration of the copyright system more generally. 

Nonetheless, and without attempting to minimize the importance of that debate, I have to pause and admit that immediate and free access to Poincaré was nothing short of miraculous. 

*Free registration may be required to see Boyle's article.

Posted by Amy Landers on September 18, 2009 at 08:15 PM in Intellectual Property | Permalink


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Even better: Google's announced a partnership with the Expresso Book Machine people to let you print your own copies of their public-domain books.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Sep 18, 2009 9:21:02 PM

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