Google has announced that out-of-copyright titles are now available for download via Google Book Search (formerly known as “Google Print”).

Remember Project Gutenberg? 19,000 public domain titles are currently available at what is one of the first book digitization projects. The focus in this project is on providing the text (generally as ASCII files or HTML) of out-of-copyright works. By contrast, the aim of Google Book Search is to provide scanned images of actual published works — both in copyright and in the public domain. As I’ve commented before, Google’s approach to generating its library of scanned works has been controversial, particularly to publishers of works contained in libraries that are participating in the project.

Unfortunately, my expectations of Google’s library were not met. While the collection of works available on Google Book Search is broad, the access to full images of public domain works is not what I had hoped.

Part of the problem is that many works that are strictly in the public domain are contained in editions that have been copyrighted in recent years. (For example, I was unable to find a full image of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which was published in 1813.) Many of the copies cited in Google’s catalogue have recent copyright dates — reflecting the fact that they were published with forewards, commentaries, and with other content that attracts novel copyright protection, effectively extending that protection to the image of the public domain work (although, in most cases, not to the text of that public domain work). I had similar results from searches for other out-of-copyright works. Perhaps as more volumes are added to Google Book Search this problem will correct itself.

If you are interested in how Google has responded to the objections to how it has gone about scanning works and making them available through Google Book Search, it’s worth looking around the “News & Views” pages, including the Q&A and the legal controversy surrounding the Google Books Library Project in particular.

Regarding the legal action against Google, which I’ve discussed before, nothing of note appears to have happened in the United States since the the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers launched their lawsuits. During 2006, a lawsuit brought in Germany has been withdrawn, and a French publisher has threatened to sue.