I'm going to start by saying that I love the idea behind Google's plan to scan libraries of books and make them available. I think that in the coming years, the way we view copyright is going to have to change because the current system is untenable in the digital age. That said, I'm glad the Justice Department is slowing this settlement down a little.
The settlement, announced in October, gives Google the right to display the books online and to profit from them by selling access to individual texts and selling subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other institutions. Revenue would be shared among Google, authors and publishers.If the critics are correct--and I don't know if they are or not--then this is a bad deal. If the settlement gives Google permission to display the books online and sell access to them (or sell ad space beside them) but also leaves the door open to other groups to do the same, then I'm all for it, current copyright holders be damned. It doesn't matter to me if there's no current competition for the service or if Google would have such a head start that other companies would decide it's not worth trying to catch up--the key for me has to be that other companies or consortiums could do it if they wish. My concern is solely with the exclusivity of Google's license here.
But critics say that Google alone would have a license that covers millions of so-called orphan books, whose authors cannot be found or whose rights holders are unknown. Some librarians fear that with no competition, Google will be free to raise prices for access to the collection.
The kind of writing I do would benefit greatly from what Google is trying to do here, and I'm sure that's why I support it. Poetry doesn't generally get big press runs, and doesn't stay in catalogs all that long, and literary journals are almost always on the precipice, so my genre is likely to be orphaned more than others. Since it's not like I'm likely to make much money on my writing anyway, what's the downside for me if Google makes my work more accessible? None that I can see.
The worry, then, has to be over whether Google would be the exclusive license holder in these matters, and if they are, then I have to oppose the effort, much as I love me some Google. I don't blame Google for trying to freeze out its competition--the amount of return on a deal like this can't be all that great compared to Google's other efforts, so one way to ensure profitability is to be the only one in the game. But I don't trust anyone with exclusive rights to a property, even if I trust the company otherwise. Google will just have to trust that their lead and their skills will keep them ahead in the game.
But the game still ought to be played. I want my Google library.