Google on the defensive as book deal starts to come apart

With the Google Book settlement showing signs of coming apart at the seams, Google has taken to its blog to make its case for the deal. Background: The settlement, reached in October between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, would create a $125 million fund that authors would be paid out of.

With the Google Book settlement showing signs of coming apart at the seams, Google has taken to its blog to make its case for the deal.

Background: The settlement, reached in October between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, would create a $125 million fund that authors would be paid out of. The authors and publishers sued in a 2005 class action over Google’s giant book-scannning operation, which has been scanning both public domain and copyrighted works.

Opponents say the deal gives Google a monopoly on online book access.

Google's argument, in the words of Book Search product manager Adam Smith:

Until now, we've only been able to show these users a few snippets of text for most of the in-copyright books we've scanned through our Library Project. Since the vast majority of these books are out of print, to actually read them you have to hunt them down at a library or a used bookstore. And if you can't find them -- because the only known copy is at a library on the other side of the country--you're unfortunately out of luck.

...The settlement won't just expand access to out-of-print books, either. Because authors and publishers will have the ability to let users preview and purchase their in-print books through Google Book Search, readers will have even more options for accessing in-print books than they have today.

The problem with this theory is in the text of the post.

We've only been able to show a few snippets . . .

News flash to Google: The world - even the online world - of books, literature, history and pulp fiction actually is bigger and more diverse than Google. Readers might or might not be happy with a Google-owned one-stop-shop for all books online. That's not the point. To the extent the deal makes forward motion on orphan works - those works that were retroactively covered by the Copyright Act of 1976 (which removed the requirement of copyright registration) but whose copyright holders can't be found - it gives Google a monopoly on the legal right to use the works.

Larger point: Google's entire business model is the commoditization of other people's content. See Google News, Gmail, AdSense/Adwords, etc. Book Search puts Google in the driver's seat of determining how online books are monetized, at what rates, what share Google, authors and publishers get, how the metrics are determined. Books are reduced to data. Competitors are cut out. Other players remain unable to use the orphan works. Google leverages the audience.

Newspapers will die because they have been commoditized out of existence (with some fatal mistakes of their own along the way.) Do we really want books to go the same way?