October 26, 2005 1:06 PM PDT
An open-source rival to Google's book project
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Or so it seemed at a party held by the Internet Archive on Tuesday evening, when the nonprofit foundation and a parade of partners, including the Smithsonian Institution, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, rallied around a collective open-source initiative to digitize all the world's books and make them universally available.
Google was noticeably absent from the cadre of partners, considering that the search behemoth has a high-profile project of its own to scan library books and add them to its searchable index.
Some supporters of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, took the opportunity to criticize such private ventures.
"We want to digitize all human knowledge...and we can't risk having it privatized," said Doron Weber, an executive of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has contributed more than $3 million to the Internet Archive since 2003. Citing the importance of an open library for educational purposes, he called on private companies to "rein in their impulses" while urging libraries to "embrace the future."
Still, a Google executive in attendance downplayed the perceived rivalry.
"I think (the project) is great," said Alexander Macgillivray, Google's senior product counsel, following a presentation on the book-scanning effort. "It's a shame it's being portrayed as a battle between the two projects because the efforts are complementary."
Digitizing books has become a focus in recent years as people try to make otherwise analog information available on the Internet. Academic research, music from classical to pop and video are all being digitized, and now books are in technology's path.
Google put its own far-reaching digitization project in the spotlight 10 months ago, when it announced partnerships with Harvard University, Stanford University and others to digitize collections of copyright and out-of-copyright books. In 2004, Amazon.com also opened up a digital book collection on its Web site and announced its efforts to scan popular works in partnership with publishers. Amazon visitors can "search inside the book" as a result.
Still, to make the millions of books in the world available online is a Herculean task. Issues of publisher copyrights, data storage and backup, and labor costs must still be hashed out. It would take 6 petabytes to digitally store just 1 million books, according to the Internet Archive. By comparison, Google reportedly has stored nearly 10 million Web documents, requiring between 1.7 and 5 petabytes of storage.
One thorny issue has already reached the courts. Google faces lawsuits from publishers and authors that claim it is violating their copyrights and overstepping the boundaries of fair use laws. Google has made scanning books an "opt out" program for publishers, meaning they must actively tell the search company not to scan their books to stay out of the company's Web index.
The Internet Archive only plans to scan books that are in the public domain and those that copyright holders have given the green light for scanning.
Though it has been working on the effort for years, the Internet Archive recently jump-started its effort by introducing the Open Content Alliance. Members include Adobe Systems, Columbia University, the European Archive, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
Yahoo and MSN Search are also notable members, given their investments in Web search and driving traffic to their proprietary services. The two companies boasted the openness of the project Tuesday night, but their allegiance to the open-source project surely is a strategic counterbalance to Google's project. In the end, the open-source library will also be searchable using MSN Search and Yahoo.
Their support means donating money. MSN Search, for example, has committed approximately $5 million to ensure 150,000 books are scanned and added to the collection over the next year.
Last week, the Internet Archive launched Open Library, a Web site that will eventually house all the world's books, according to the nonprofit. It now demonstrates the project with 15 digitized works. The Web site's interface is modeled after that of the British Library in the United Kingdom.
The foundation will digitize 18,000 works of fiction chosen from the University of California archive project that are no longer bound by copyright.
For now, people can download 15 demonstration books from the Open Library site and print them for free at home. Visitors can
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