Google suspends plan to scan the world's books

The search giant is taking time out to let publishers decide if they are happy to see their books scanned into Google Print

Google put its plan to scan and copy books from five of the world's top libraries on hold on Thursday, citing copyright problems.

The company announced its Google Print programme in October 2004 as a way "for publishers to make their books discoverable by the millions of people who search on Google" and began the laborious process of scanning in millions of copyright and non-copyright books.

According to Google's Print Product Manager, Adam Smith, this process has been halted so "any and all copyright holders can tell us which books they'd prefer that we not scan if we find them in a library". To give publishers time to respond to Google's request, Smith says his company "won't scan any in-copyright books from now until this November".

Google's plans to organise the information of the world has already come up against stiff opposition. The basic book copyright in the US, for example, explicitly states that "no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means".

As Smith points out in his statement, publishers who join Google's "Publishers Program" and let the company copy their books will get the benefits of having them "put into search results" and Google will direct potential buyers to their Web site, "provide ongoing reports about user interest in individual books and the books will also earn revenue from contextual advertising".

So far, Google has collected a patchy collection of books. A brief survey revealed that Google did not have a full version of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby for example, despite it being out of copyright by many years but did have a few pages from a Penguin edition.

Google Print's usefulness as a search engine for the published world is likely to be severely tested if results have to be tailored around the actions of publishers.