What is the deal with Googlebooks and No Ebooks Available?
August 12, 2017 1:21 PM   Subscribe

So I need one of set of books on google books dating from 1743 and what luck! Volume one it turns up. what I really need, however, is a later volume in the series, and it turns up as well, but unavailable for preview for unexplained reasons. It also lists a new copyright date of 2011 by Bibliobazaar.

I'm willing to bet that Bibliobazaar did not scan that book themselves, and pretty sure they can't copy right books that old.

I've also had No Ebook Available turn up only to find the volume turn up elsewhere (hathitrust, eg) featuring the google watermark. And not necessarily available to those unaffiliated with hathitrust institutions, never mind Bibliobazaar.

Is there a rational explanation? Or even an irrational one?
posted by BWA to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL. The underlying text is almost certainly public domain given its age. However, a publisher/author can add a forward, citations, re-translate, etc, and copyright the new work. This doesn't mean they have rights to the underlying content (the original work). Don't know any detail about this particular book, but if there is a copyright on it, that's likely how it was achieved.

Another publisher could do the same thing to achieve a copyright on the same title (with different citations, for example), and then it would appear to most readers that two different publishers have a copyright on the same work.
posted by bigplugin at 2:17 PM on August 12

There is a another copy of volume one on Gallica (National French Library). The front page shows a handwritten note next to "tomus primus" that says in French "le second n'a jamais paru", i.e. "the second [volume] was never published". Are you sure that there is actually a second volume for this particular edition? (Other editions can be found here). About the copyright, the same book (same ISBN) also appears as published by "Nabu press", so I'd say that this is just copyfraud shenanigans from predatory publishers.
posted by elgilito at 2:30 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Congratulations! You have discovered one of the great rage-inducing aspects of GoogleBooks for our times! (At least, for academics.)

1) Bibliobazaar is one of the many scrapers out there: they grab text from GoogleBooks and other sites, then republish it in hard copy.

2) GoogleBooks makes public domain material available or not available for...no known reason. To make matters worse, it will make public domain material available for years, then suddenly yank it with no explanation. It's not clear if there is a human being involved in any of this, or just some bizarre code at work. Google has never explained what is going on.

3) You're right that material unavailable in GoogleBooks will show up on HathiTrust or archive.org. I've generally found it best to search for books via regular Google search, not the dedicated GoogleBooks box--not only is that more likely to bring up books in GoogleBooks itself (why? dunno), but it will also grab editions hosted elsewhere.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:13 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

pretty sure they can't copy right books that old

I was going to echo thomas j wise that a common scam is the false copyright claim to create artificial scarcity, and that still seems the most likely scenario to me; but if eligito's French note is correct and implies that a second volume was written but not published... by my understanding a loophole is that a work's copyright period may begin from the date it was first published, under U.S. law at least under some circumstances. So, if under the copyright law that applies to this work a similar loophole would make an unpublished work from 1743 eligible for copyright, perhaps that's a scenario under which Bibliobazaar's claim could be accurate. (I'm not a lawyer either.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:23 AM on August 13

have you checked in with Distributed Proofreader - they do have a fairly extensive library of scans.
posted by ptm at 10:02 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]

if eligito's French note is correct and implies that a second volume was written but not published

Alas, there are many volumes published but not available on googlebooks. Not for the first time.

I've generally found it best to search for books via regular Google search

Indeed! Problems arise when there are multiple volumes of whatever the series. Some appear, some do not, order seems random and - some are readable, some not. I've also had success if I have a few words of known text and search google with that. Things they could not find before suddenly - appear.

But I fear the answer must be things happen for reasons we will never understand. Many thanks for all replies, I will be looking into the alternate sources. I would recommend the Bavarian Library.
posted by BWA at 5:48 PM on August 13

This is a complicated issue. One aspect is that Google didn't employ any professional bibliographers when they "catalogued" (and I use the word very loosely) the books they scanned/are scanning. This is particularly a problem with serials and multi-volume works. You can often overcome this problem by searching for the work at the Hathi Trust website. If the Hathi Trust site indicates that the work isn't available except to member institutions that own a physical copy, then there may very well be a legit copyright problem; you can always contact them.

A second is that copyright law differs from country to country, so material available at books.google.com (in the US) might differ substantially from what's available at books.google.fr (in France). A good VPN with multiple connection points in different countries is a useful tool. (I like Witopia, but there are others).

A third is that companies can claim rights not on the actual words in a text but in the typography, layout, and other aspects of design that they do (depending on the jurisdiction), so that a book skimmer can take a public-domain text, add some design elements, then release it as a "copyrighted" edition with a new copyright date.

For my own scholarly research, I treat Google Books as a source of last resort. I'm particularly down on them because of the bibliographic control problem, but also because when they scan books that have fold-out illustrations, they almost never actually fold them out. (It makes sense from the minimum-wage scanner's point of view to not waste the timeā€”if the equipment even lets them.) If your research is on illustration, you're SOL with such images.

I usually start with Digitale Sammlungen and e-rara for early modern books; for natural history and biology, my own areas of focus, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is amazing. Gallica is also useful. The Dutch Royal Library has some good stuff too. I'm a European historian so I skew in that direction.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:52 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

By the way, what makes you think that the Bibliobazaar version is anything other than a modern print-on-demand reprint of tomus primus? I don't see anything in the record that would indicate otherwise. Google Books's "other editions" doesn't necessarily specify other volumes. If I were you, I'd check one of the editions of Brunet's Manuel to find out whether there was ever a second volume published. It could be a bibliographic ghost.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:10 PM on August 13

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