You probably know reCAPTCHA already: for the webmasters and the end user, it is an antispam system which asks you to read distorted words in order to prove that you are a human and not a spamming bot. This service has another end: instead of generating its distorted texts, it takes them from printed books to help digitalizing them.
In theory, this is an excellent idea, which should help preserving and distributing parts of the human culture. And, in the beginning, it was used in such a way, with reCAPTCHA participating in the Gutenberg project which digitalizes books from the public domain to offer them freely (as in free speech) to everyone. In 2009 however, reCAPTCHA was bought by Google. Now they do not participate in the Gutenberg project any more, instead they are digitalizing stuff from the New York Times and from Google Books. They do not provide much detail about that, but it does not seem that they distribute them in a free way afterwards¹.
To put it boldly: they use people's brain power to digitalize books for their own exploitation monopoly, which is wrong. These books should be made available under a free license.
Do not help reCAPTCHA. If you are a webmaster, try to use another more ethical system. If you are an end user, and you are facing a reCAPTCHA test, avoid putting the exact answer but try inserting small mistakes (not big ones, which get detected and make you fail the test). And ask Google to free the books they digitalized using your brain.
- I may be wrong but I learnt to be suspicious in the context of digital culture. Please Google, if you do publish your books digitalized with reCAPTCHA under a free license, tell me, or rather, tell it to everyone and display it proudly in the reCAPTCHA website. ↑