I was very happy to see Google books to propose a lot of public domain scanned books. For example, Marion De Lorme, a Victor Hugo work is available in Google Book. But I was surprised about the statement before the beginning of the public domain work :
This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world's books discoverable online. It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that's often difficult to discover. Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file - a reminder of this book's long journey from the publisher to a library and finally to you. Usage guidelines Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying. We also ask that you: + Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes. + Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google's system: If you are conducting research on machine translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help. + Maintain attribution The Google "watermark" you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it. + Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe. About Google Book Search Google's mission is to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Google Book Search helps readers discover the world's books while helping authors and publishers reach new audiences. You can search through the full text of this book on the web at http://books.google.com/
Google clearly relicensed the public domain work under a kind of ugly non-commercial license. Of course, they are allowed to do that but this is a kind of non-sense. It's building a new era of proprietary information from works already paid by the community (this was the purpose of the author rights). It's clearly not for the benefit of the author (everybody know that Victor Hugo is a young author looking for money to continue his work ;-) or the community, it's clearly only for the benefit of the editor (Google only ?). Google is claiming that they have to do that because it's expensive to do the scanning… like it's expensive to do the crawling of Internet ? but at the end, they will use the public domain work to show their advertisement ? So the commercial restriction is clearly for the sole benefit of them. The only think I hope is that Google is not burning the book after having scanned. I'm sure that they are not doing that. They are just moving the public domain in a private collection where the benefit for the community is minimal. The citizen are already paying twice for author rights… (think about taxes on media and distribution) now we are paying a third time.
Update 22 April 2007 : I'm not anymore alone at least for governmental publication. It's an open letter for keeping the works from the US government in the public domain when being scanned for Google Books. I'm still very surprised that a lot of people understand the act of scanning of a public domain work to become a proprietary work. It looks like a kind of black magic.