Sunday, May 09, 2010

Google Books Rocks

Awesome is too small a word to express what Google Books has achieved. Last year Google settled the class action law suit that allows them to index out of print books that they had digitized. As part of the settlement they also have to sell the books, which means that Google is now a bookseller. The most important part of the settlement is the Books Right Registry:
"The agreement will also create an independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry to represent authors, publishers and other rightsholders. In essence, the Registry will help locate rightsholders and ensure that they receive the money their works earn under this agreement. You can visit the settlement administration site, the Authors Guild or the AAP to learn more about this important initiative."
One of the biggest practical issue with Intellectual Property is that it is impossible to use most Intellectual Property because you do not know who owns it, and therefore you do not know who to ask for permission to use it. Laurence Lessig has been talking about this for a long time as a part of his campaign to fix copyright laws. The establishment of a Book Rights Registry goes some way to address the problem with one type of Intellectual Property. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a trend.

I will write more about this issue another day. For now, here is how I stumbled upon the awesomeness of Google Books. My father would often quote "but tomorrow by the living god, we'll try the game again" after some setback. I knew it was from a poem, but not much more. So the other day, I typed "but tomorrow by the living god" into Google and was astonished by the progress that has been made in search over the last few years. The first entry in the search results linked to a poetry anthology in Google Books that has the full poem by John Masefield.

Masefield is best known for his poems "Sea Fever", "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely seas and the sky, ..." and "Cargoes", "Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, ..." For poem collectors, here is the rarely seen poem TOMORROW by John Masefield:
Oh yesterday the cutting edge drank thirstily and deep,
The upland outlaws ringed us in and herded us as sheep,
They drove us from the stricken field and bayed us into keep;
But tomorrow
By the living God, we'll try the game again!

Oh yesterday our little troop was ridden through and through,
Our swaying, tattered pennons fled a broken, beaten few,
And all a summer afternoon, they hunted us and slew;
But tomorrow
By the living God, we'll try the game again!

And here upon the turret-top the bale-fires glower red,
The wake-lights burn and drip about our hacked, disfigured dead,
And many a broken heart is here and many a broken head;
But tomorrow
By the living God, we'll try the game again!
In my original search results, there was a link to Google newspapers where a Virgin Islands Daily News edition from 1950 quotes part of the poem. This time when I did the search, that link did not come up. Instead there was a link to a 1991 zine for Vietnam War vets that quotes a verse of the poem. Who knows what you may find when you do the search.

No comments: