Google Book Search is a fantastic tool for genealogists. Thousands of genealogy and local history books are available on Google Books. In many cases, you can download entire books free of charge. The books are stored as PDF files on your computer's hard drive, where you can view them time and time again. You can also print entire books or short excerpts on your own printer.
I am delighted with Google Books as I have found and downloaded several books that mention my ancestors, including one 999-page book on my family name. Until recently, I was able to purchase reprint copies of that book on paper for $139.00. I now have the same book stored on my hard drive, free of charge.
You can read more about Google Books in the article I wrote in the October 24, 2006 newsletter at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/10/full_text_genea.html.
Google will not reveal how many books have already been scanned, but press releases by the company state that more than 3,000 books are being scanned every business day, a rate that translates into more than 1 million annually. The entire project may exceed $US 100 million dollars. Google then gives the information away at no charge.
All is not perfect with Google Books, however. If you read the comments written by newsletter readers at the end of my earlier article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/10/full_text_genea.html, you will note that genealogists in Israel and Australia said they were unable to view or download the same book(s) that I had written about. It seems that Google is deliberately blocking many users outside the United States.
In theory, Google Book Search allows all public-domain works and other out-of-copyright material to be downloaded. Since Google is a U.S. corporation and the books are being scanned at U.S. libraries, it is relatively easy for Google to determine a book's copyright status in the U.S.
For users outside the United States, however, Google must be sure that the work in question is indeed out of copyright under local laws. Says a member of the Google Book Search Support Team, "Since whether a book is in the public domain can often be a tricky legal question, we err on the side of caution and display at most a few snippets until we have determined that the book has entered the public domain."
In other words, Google will not allow a book to be downloaded by non-U.S. residents unless Google is absolutely certain that a download would be legal in the other country. With hundreds of countries, each having different copyright laws, and more than one million books being added to Google Books each year, the task of verifying the legality of each book in each country is overwhelming.
Do not look for a quick solution to this thorny legal problem.
Here's a hint to non-U.S. residents: If you find that a book you want is available on Google Books to U.S. residents but not to you, you might ask an online friend in the U.S. to download it for you and then send it to you in e-mail. That will be legal for Google as they only supply the book to U.S. residents. It will be legal for the U.S. resident as he or she has not broken any laws in the U.S. However, you will be responsible for compliance with laws in your own country.