Friday, August 20, 2010

The Bizarre Case of Google Books Unavailable Outside the U.S.

Over on the NT Gateway blog, I noted yesterday that William Wrede's Paul is now available in toto on Google Books. Accordingly, I added a link to the Paul: Books and Articles page. But then it appeared that a lot of people were unable to access the book. In comments, Holger Szesnat, my colleague on the NT Gateway, noted:
In my experience, most google books that are available in full view in the U.S.A. are not accessible outside of that country. I don’t even get ’snippet’ view of the ET of Wrede’s book. The publication date seems to make no difference. Particularly galling when, as I once noticed, a scan had been made at the Bodleian library in Oxford, but UK web visitors would be prevented from accessing the google book scan. Even worse when you live on the other side of the globe, with absolute no way of reading that book.

One thing that U.S.-based people can do though is this: download the google books PDF, and then upload it to – from where it is accessible to anyone. So much for google’s supposed copyright concern behind all this, incidentally. The German original is available on that site already:

The rest of us (i.e. those who do not live in google-land) can use proxy servers like hotspot shield to get around the problem – as long as you are prepared to put up with slow speed and annoying advertisements.
Well, this was news to me. I am really surprised that books like this, over one hundred years old, are not showing up in some countries. I realize, of course, that copyright laws differ from country to country. Nevertheless, I am curious to know how widespread this kind of difference between Google Books at home and abroad is. Anyone else experienced this?

Now, if anyone would like to upload the PDF of Wrede's book to, it would be great to hear from you. As an interim measure, I have uploaded the PDF to my web space here:

W. Wrede, Paul (translated by E. W. Lummis; London: Philip Green, 1907) [PDF]

Update (14.01): Roger Pearse comments.


AKMA said...

I noticed this last year when I was trying to use some 19th-century translations of Judaica for one of my courses, and again this spring when I was looking for "Bible History" books from the public domain, to adapt to my own nefarious purposes for a Bible intro course. But of course, that merely reinforces (rather than extends) Holger’s point, since he’s UK-based too.

Rick Sumner said...

For books that haven't been uploaded elsewhere another easy fix is to use a web proxy. They require no technical knowledge, there are a ton of them around (just google them), and almost all of them are US based. It's the best way to browse Google books too.

Drastic Plastic said...

I'm slightly surprised that people don't know this. MOST of the content in Google Books is unavailable outside the USA.

It's worse than that. The actual results returned are different too. Not merely do you not see the books; you don't even know that they are there.

If it was published after 1880, basically Google Books does not make it available except to Americans. Americans can see all material up to 1923 in full, because their copyright law has that horizon.

As you rightly remark, this leads to the absurd situation where the Bodleian Library in Oxford is making stuff available that only US people can see!

The reason for all this is simple. Originally everyone could see everything on Google Books. Then some squitty publishers over here whined that their copyright might be being infringed -- although how many books published before 1923 are commercially valuable still might be queried. Google Books, astonished at such short-sightedness, said, "Fine, whatever, you can just sit in the dark then" and blocked access to non-US readers for books after 1880.

The problem is a political one. But we all need to shout about it. Until you see an unfiltered set of results, you won't realise just how badly we are all being shafted.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the helpful remarks, Roger. I suppose my own naiveté resulted in part from the fact that I moved to the US just as the Google Books revolution was getting into full swing. And the fact that so much stuff that appeared on Google Books was then turning up on masked me from seeing what was happening. Cf., for example, my post about the Oxyrhynchus volumes on Presumably the Google Books versions of those are blocked outside the US too?

Drastic Plastic said...

I've posted about your post on my own blog.

You know... isn't the most dangerous bit of all this the fact that people do NOT know? If Google Books outside the US indicated that it was filtering, people might lobby and get it changed. But I imagine an awful lot of people just suppose that Google Books is not that great, and so never even realise what they are missing.

Is there some way to ask Google to highlight the filtering when it is happening?

Mark Goodacre said...

I noticed, thanks. Yes, good point.