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Do-it-yourself Google Books — a million dollar idea for Amazon?

Harry Lewis has a terrific post about a $300 do-it-yourself book scanner he saw at the D is for Digitize conference on the Google Book settlement. The plans are available at, from Daniel Reetz, the inventor.

There are lots of personal uses for home-digitized books, so — I am definitely not a lawyer — I assume it’s legal to scan in your own books. But doesn’t that just seem silly if your friend or classmate has gone to the trouble of scanning in a book that you already own? Shouldn’t there be a site where we can note which books we’ve scanned in? Then, if we can prove that we’ve bought a book, why shouldn’t we be able to scarf up a copy another legitimate book owner has scanned in, instead of wasting all the time and pixels scanning in our own copy?

Isn’t Amazon among the places that: (a) knows for sure that we’ve bought a book, (b) has the facility to let users upload material such as scans, and (c) could let users get an as-is scan from a DIY-er if there is one available for the books they just bought?

12 Responses to “Do-it-yourself Google Books — a million dollar idea for Amazon?”

  1. “Shouldn’t there be a site where we can note which books we’ve scanned in?”

    Amazon owns 40% of LibraryThing…

  2. And, The Copyright Registry at would be happy to add a registry to the equation. Currently focused on images, C-Registry would work just fine for e-books.

  3. You could note it a bunch of places, including LibraryThing. I’m not sure if scanning for your own use is technically legal, though it would never come up. But whoever makes the site to exchange book files between people who *say* they have the book should, I think, get a good lawyer!

    PS: Amazon’s stake changed when another minority partner, Bowker, was brought on, and is now undisclosed.

  4. I’m a big fan of LibraryThing, but LT doesn’t have evidence that you’ve actually bought a copy of any of the books you list. Amazon does. So, Amazon could enforce a policy that only allows you to download a DIY scan of a book if you have already bought a copy of that book at Amazon.

  5. I’ve scanned about 500 books (or, more generally, “works”) I own, most of which are in the public domain (by coincidence, not intention). Distributed Proofreaders have tried to make the OCRed texts as close to the originals as possible, which is something Google is terrible at managing.

    Not at all ironically, the two Plustek Opticbook 3600 book scanners we own were bought through Amazon.

  6. Yes, would work well for me – – at least it is the right direction. I tweeted this earlier today: I want to listen to an audio book, highlight/tag text, add marginalia, do tweet/blog-like activities + respect copyright/left at same time. (@iMwhatIeat) Have been imagining the kinds of integrated tools I really need given emergent technology.

  7. My feelings:

    1. Amazon is not incented to do it.
    2. Amazon can’t tell if you sold the book or not.
    3. I don’t think, legally, owning a book gives you the legal right to do anything you want with it “solely for your use.” Are we sure it does?

    One way to enforce ownership:

    Every RAND(1,10) days, you have to demonstrate you have a copy on hand. The program asks you what words are on line X of page Y. If you get it wrong, goodbye.

  8. Unfortunately the law is pretty clear on this one, though. “Copyright” stands, quite literally, for “the right to make copies”. If the current copyright owner hasn’t granted you the right to make copies of his work and distribute them to others, you cannot legally do it (unless you’re covered by one of the very, very few exceptions provided by copyright law), no matter what the standing of said “others” are. In other words, the fact someone owns a copy of a work doesn’t give you any “copy rights” over your own copy of that same work to then distribute it to her.

    Yes, I know this is silly, buy it’s how things are.

    What doesn’t mean your idea isn’t feasible. It is, provided you make an agreement with each. and. every. single. publisher. out. there. (yes, you read that right) to grant both your site and your site subscribers the right to do it. Why both? Because first your users are copying to your site; then your site is copying their copies to other users. Hence, both need “copy rights” granted them. Not to mention publishers themselves would need to acquire said right from authors.

    Now, given the prospect of selling ebooks themselves, plus the fear of piracy, I don’t think many will grant you such a broad set of rights. It’s a nice idea for sure, but currently unrealistic.

    By the way: making yourself a copy of something you own for your own use provided you neither give it, sell it, loan it, rent it, allow anyone else to use it, nor keep it when you depart with the original, is, as far as I know, fine, or at least in a gray enough area that few try to argue against it. Anything else and the law would most certainly see your act as pirating.

    Sad, isn’t it? :-(

  9. Tim-

    In the US, I’m pretty sure that copying for strictly personal use is considered fair use, but other countries do not recognize fair use. Your ownership test fails immediately because a user with access to page images has the same info as a user with hard copy.

    My post on Dan Reetz’s presentation is at

  10. “Your ownership test fails immediately because a user with access to page images has the same info as a user with hard copy.”

    On page 143, what does the paper smell like?

    Interesting question, though. While there’s certainly something in the “experience” of a paper book that can’t digitized, is there anything in the *data* that’s at least *hard* to digitize? It would be pretty hard to digitize the position of a page in its quire—although if you know the number of pages, you can probably do the math easily—or whether the cover has raised or shiny type. But yeah, I think we need scratch-and-sniff.

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