Is It OK To Use Google’s Public Domain Books For Commercial Purposes?

A couple of weeks ago, while gathering material for my article, "Is It OK To Use Public Domain Books From The Internet Archive For Commercial Purposes?", I remembered an article I had bookmarked several years ago regarding Google Book Search and the "Usage Guidelines" that are ever present in the front matter of the Public Domain books you'll find there available for download.

I finally located that bookmark earlier this week - just goes to show no matter how organized you think you are, some things always manage to slip through the cracks ; )

Anyway, if you are still in the least bit sqeamish about repurposing content from Google's Public Domain book scans, I think you'll find this article enlightening...and empowering.

When you download a Public Domain book from Google Book Search and open the PDF, you'll find the following on the very first page...

"This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world’s books discoverable online.

It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that’s often difficult to discover.

Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file – a reminder of this book’s long journey from the publisher to a library and finally to you.

Usage guidelines

Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google’s system: If you are conducting research on machine translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Maintain attribution The Google “watermark” you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.

+ Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can’t offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book’s appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe."

Understandably, we get a lot of questions about these "Usage Guidelines" and exactly what they mean as far as being able to use this content in commercial endeavors since the content is after all, Public Domain.

A few years ago Philipp Lenssen, the driving force behind Authorama, decided to tests the waters a little bit  and see if Big G really intended to police and enforce these guidelines.

You can read about his adventures here (the resulting debate in the comments section is very thought provoking), and also some interesting coverage and discussion of the event by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land here.

The latter article describes how Danny approached Google about these "Useage Guidelines"...

"I’m checking with Google to see what they think about the project and the legality of trying to impose restrictions on public domain books, just because they’ve scanned them."

To cut to the chase, here's the response that Danny got back from Big G...

Google's Official Response:

"We have gotten this question in the past.  The front matter of our PDF books is not a EULA [end user license agreement]. We make some requests, but we are not trying to legally bind users to those requests. We’ve spent (and will continue to spend) a lot of time and money on Book Search, and we hope users will respect that effort and not use these files in ways that make it harder for us to justify that expense (for example, by setting up the ACME Public Domain PDF Download service that charges users a buck a book and includes malware in the download).  Rather than using the front matter to convey legal restrictions, we are attempting to use it to convey what we hope to be the proper netiquette for the use of these files."

Based on this response, we can see that following these guidelines is clearly a personal choice - a matter of etiquette, rather than legality.

One  more thing - check out this cool video featuring Google Books Product Manager Brandon Badger and Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books demonstrating the "Expresso Book Machine" and how it can be used to print Public Domain books from Google Book Search literally on-demand...

I so want to find one of these machines in my living room on Christmas morning! Every kid in town would get a nice new stack of books in their stocking ; )

But the part of this video that relates to what we have been discussing here is the following quote from Dane Neller...

"What's great about this technology is that it radically decentralizes the marketplace for the distribution of books. So now a small independant bookstore, a library, or a chain or anybody -  it doesn't even have to be a bookstore -  can now have...eventually can have unlimited inventory available for printing at their shop."

Unlimited inventory for my shop?

Gee, sounds like commercial use to me!

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  1. Slava says

    Wow, that’s an extensive research, which sounds like a good novel :) I was really surprised Big G said they didn’t want to enforce this as EULA…. I was seriously sure they’d say – yeah, we spent money on this, so these free books are no longer free. (Which they do, actually, even if not enforcing it)
    Slava´s last blog post ..Mountain Treks in Northern Thailand

  2. says

    I’m impressed! Yes, I would love to have that baby on Christmas morning too….oh, the possibilities! Thanks again for clearing up the jibberish!

  3. says

    Hi Paul,

    I agree completely. Of course, the main point of sharing this video was to point out the fact that they are implying that it’s ok to print out the books for commercial purposes. But…I would still love to have one of these machines! ;)

  4. Jamie says

    I am really thinking about buying this, but have just one question.
    Can I take the public domain short stories and novels and repackage them and start my own online book store…That would be awesome.
    Hope you reply and thanks for your time.

  5. YS says

    I can tell you from practical experience that once you get big enough, Google will go after you for using their books, EULA or no EULA. As far as the book machine is concerned they have a contract with Google.

  6. says

    It would be great if you would share your name and what practical experience you have had. This would be a great help in all of our education if you have some personal experience to share that we should be aware of.

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