• http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    As I commented there:

    Disclaimer: I-Am-Not-A-Lawyer. That being said:

    1) Of course public domain works can be used commercially – many publishers sell copies of Shakespeare’s plays, or Greek drama, which are in the public domain.

    2) As I parse it (IANAL! IANAL!), the initial material is a *request*, not a legal restriction.

    3) It is indeed phrased in a way that it might be mistaken for a terms-of-service contract. Whether this is intentional or not, is unclear.

    4) The big legal problem is not copyright, but *contract* (“of adhesion”).

    Current US law is tending towards the view that a contract can take away
    rights which you would have under copyright law. But it’s a murky area.
    However, if Google said, “this is a public domain book, but in consideration
    for us giving you this copy, you agree BY CONTRACT to the following
    restrictions …”, there’s an argument that *is* enforceable.

  • Philipp Lenssen

    Very interesting, I’ve added this in the comments.

    So, it is legal for me to republish this, Google emphasizes, but I’ve escalated this into the select group of Google experts — like you Danny — to find out about that. But how is average Google-searcher Joe gonna understand what he can do with these books? Which brings us to a second question: why is Google creating this netiquette? To me, the proper netiquette for works in the public domain is “you can read, remix, republish, commercially or non-commercially, personal or public, any of the content you find in this book”, and Google can go ahead and include their additional “we’d appreciate your (voluntary) link back to Google Books if you do”.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein
  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    Philipp, I read the Google text “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.” plus the “We also ask that you” part and definitely took it as a request, not an obligation. There was already an official response, but I happened to be in a meeting with a Book Search person this morning, so I asked there as well. This is definitely an etiquette request, not some contract or legal obligation.

  • http://warrenandwetmore.org Walter Dufresne

    This reminds me of the difficulty faced by scholars who work with libraries and museums that make available the public domain photographs in their collections. More than a few institutions take that public domain work back into a kind of private domain, by demanding money and an agreement that limits usage in exchange for making the materials available. Whether this is a way to recover costs or a hijacking of culture is debatable.