Is Google a Monster?

Many years ago, I wrote a biography of a woman called Maria Rye who was involved in first-wave feminism during the 1850s and 1860s.  The details aren’t important now – because without asking my permission, Google digitized the whole thing.

Google did this a lot, a few years back.  Google, you see, is a monster.  Many authors protested at this abuse of their copyright, and eventually there was a settlement, but since they had sued in an American court, the settlement only really provided compensation for American authors.  Anyone else had to accept a derisory amount of money, or take up the case individually in an American court – which was, of course, impossible.  And since Google didn’t notify us of the deal and there was a cut-off date, most of us got nothing.  Which is fine, really, since the only royalties I ever got came in American dollars, in amounts smaller than the cost of banking the cheques and converting them to Australian dollars.

So I am wary of Google, which is, as I said, a monster.

Maria Rye was involved with a group of women known as the Langham Place group.  They published the English Woman’s Journal, which advocated for women’s causes: votes for women, better job openings and education, ways for single women to emigrate to the colonies in search of better opportunities.  Maria wrote for the Journal, and her activities are regularly reported there.

Maria Rye also wrote for several years for another women’s magazine, the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.  The EWDM was published by Sam and Isabella Beeton.  It was much less feminist and more domestic, with recipes and dress patterns, but they published her articles on social issues, and history from a feminist perspective.

Fashion plate from Englishwoman's Domestic MagazineTogether, these two journals made up a good portion of the research I did for several chapters of my book.  The English Woman’s Journal wasn’t available on microfilm, and neither was in many libraries, but I worked in London for many weeks, going through the copies in the Fawcett Library (now The Women’s Library, and in trouble according to the latest news).  I couldn’t afford to live in London, so I commuted from the Midlands by train every day, and occasionally stayed the night in my long-suffering cousins’ attic.

Why am I telling you this?  Because this morning, I downloaded the entire runs of the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine and the English Woman’s Journal.  It took less than 10 minutes, and I now have them on my iPad in a new App called Google Play.  Both the App and the downloaded journals were free.  I can read them offline. Unlike the Fawcett copies, the illustrations in my version of the EWDM are in colour.   For many books, you can toggle between a scanned version and ‘flowing text’, which is searchable.

Google Play is not perfect by any means.  The system of going from Google Books (to find and order the books) and Google Play (to download them) is clunky.  Reviewers in the Apple Store are barely lukewarm towards the App because there are very few new books available to buy.  I still prefer to read my novels in paperback anyway.  But because Google has now digitized so much old material, for a historian working with printed materials, the system is brilliant.

So far I’ve downloaded these two journals, plus several books from the 1820s to the 1860s, which seem (from the stamps and catalogue numbers) to come from the British Library.

So Google is still a monster, but this morning at least, I am grateful to the monster. I am also much more sincerely grateful to the librarian at the Fawcett Library, all those years ago, who told me to look at the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in the first place because he thought the articles signed ‘M.S.R.’ might be written by Maria Susan Rye.  You don’t get that sort of service from Google.

There’s a good review of Google Play here.

This time last year:
To Err is Human; to pick up errors is human too, 2 April 2011
Sandgate, in a good pair of boots, 6 April 2011
Communications in Revolution; Revolutions in Communication, 9 April 2011
Oh Shenandoah! Australians in the American Civil War, 14 April 2011

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2 responses to “Is Google a Monster?

  1. Leigh Summers

    Hi Maria, I was fascinated to read your ‘google is a monster’ discussion this morning. I am also an Australian researcher whose work was stolen by google. My phd (Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset) was published by Berg Press and sold fairly well until google uploaded it without my knowledge or permission. Like you and many others I have had no compensation what so ever. Meanwhile I am investigating the role of the crinoline in colonial Australia and would love access to EDM in colour. Alas I don’t have android or i phone. Do you know of a way I could access this on my desktop? Good luck with your research Maria and thank you for making this issue more public. If you wish to contact me please do. I would love to know more about your current research. warm regards, Leigh

    • Hi Leigh,
      The irony is that – after digitising my work, and your work, and who knows who else’s work – a lot of the books have now been taken down from Google books and you can only read an extract. I know that’s now the case with my book. And it’s ironic – but having griped about it at the time, I’m now sorry that people can’t read it on line, because I’ve given up all prospects of ever getting it republished. It wouldn’t bring me any royalties, but at least it would be read and I might get the odd citation. What has happened instead, I think, is that non-American authors are being seriously disadvantaged, first because we were not included in the Google court case, and now because our work is ignored because it is competing with American books that ARE available online.

      Regarding the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, I downloaded it through Google Play to my iPad, for reading convenience, but I’ve just pulled it down to my iMac through Google Play without any problems, colour illustrations and all. You need to be signed in to Google – but as you’ve got a gmail account, you should be able to get there using that password.

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