From the mail bag: Public domain books and downloads

Thursday, November 09, 2006 at 11:19 AM

It's time for this month's "from the mail bag" post, where we answer your questions about the ins and outs of using Google Book Search. This month, Philipp from Germany asks,
Why can't I download this book and many others on the Google Book Search Scary Stories site? I can’t even see the books in full view from Germany.

Only books in the public domain -- books no longer under copyright -- have the download feature available. For users in the United States, this typically means books published before 1923. For users outside the U.S., we make determinations based on appropriate local laws. 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. These books (including some of the books on our scary stories page) may be in the public domain, but until we can be sure, we show them as if they are not.

We're working quickly to digitize and index as many books as possible so we can make Google Book Search truly comprehensive and useful. One way to treat digitized books that may be in the public domain would be to exclude them from the index until we were sure. However, our goal is to make the index as useful as possible, and that means including books as soon as we can rather than waiting for a perfect determination of public domain status. So, some books may initially show up in "Snippet View" and then later, be expanded to "Full View."

Meanwhile, if you're interested in limiting your search on Google Book Search to Full View books, you can use the radio button on

Once you select a book from the results, you'll see a “Download” button on the right side of the page if the book is out of copyright. Click the button to download a PDF file of the book to your computer.

Once you download the book, you can print it our or read it at your own pace -- without having to be online.

While we face challenges due to the scale of our project, we're working hard to make the public domain verification process faster and more efficient. So when you find a book that you believe “should” be in the public domain and all you can see is basic bibliographic information or a few snippets, it's because we've chosen to make it searchable (we often say, “discoverable”) until we know for certain that it has entered the public domain and can be displayed in full.


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