Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hostage Situation in the Public Domain

Has this happened to you?

Months ago, you found the perfect primary source for something you're researching on Google Books. Because it's on Google Books, you bookmark it, but don't bother downloading the PDF - it'll always be there right? (Wrong.) Fast forward a few months, and maybe you want to check your notes on something, maybe you want to double check that image, and lo and behold, your precious primary source is no longer accessible. Instead, you see the dreaded NO PREVIEW AVAILABLE message. It's like this for every edition.

Frustratingly, the thumbnail image shows the same as it always did, proving that Google does have this book stored away somewhere, but something has changed and now it's unavailable. So what's different?  Now there's a "Buy this book" button, and it points to one of those awful "print on demand" services. If you're so foolish as to buy this print on demand book, you'll get a low quality, mostly-illegible black and white (not even greyscale!) gluebound softcover book. If your book had color plates, you're out of luck. If your book had nice engravings, you're out of luck. If you wanted to read most of it, you're also probably out of luck.

The kicker - and the real rage-point for this post - is that it's clearly been printed from the public domain PDF. The same PDF you decided not to download.

The list of historical resources now locked-off on Google Books is staggering. Every time I go back to the service, there's less and less that I can read. If I find relevant stuff now, I download it right away, because chances are it'll be locked off behind another $25 piece-of-garbage printing by the time I think to look for it again.

We're talking sewing manuals, pattern drafting, early fashion magazines, tracts on domestic economy, herbalism, plain sewing, steam trains, premature burials, Victorian medicine, and even trade journals!

Worst, because the Google Books site doesn't make a lot of money, it seems like Google is totally unaware that there are companies out there holding our Public Domain works hostage. The closest I can find to any awareness is this article about another flybynight selling free journal articles to the unsuspecting.

So has this happened to you too? Please comment below. If you can list the titles or link to the Google Books that should be in the Public Domain but are now locked off, even better.  And - Please share!  The more attention we can draw to this problem, the better.

Knowledge in the Public Domain should remain so!

1 comment:

  1. The Epicure's Almanack. It's from 1815. No longer there bc someone published a $$$ annotated version.