Google, the company best equipped and most motivated to digitize the world's books, wants to offer the world an online Library of Alexandria. The decisions of the Justice Department, authors, book publishers, a federal judge, and Google itself likely will determine whether the company actually does.
Nobody in recent years has accused Google of lacking ambition, but its Google Book Search project is certainly among the company's top projects when it comes to chutzpah. That's not just because of the technical and financial hurdles of scanning, indexing, and displaying online millions of books, it's also because of the tangled intellectual property and legal concerns involved in the controversial project.
After revealing the book-search project in 2003, Google drew copyright infringement lawsuits from the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in 2005, but an October 2008 proposed settlement, now under review by Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, has converted those groups from adversaries to allies.
The settlement, if approved, could neatly cut a Gordian knot of copyright entanglements though setting Google back $125 million. That's because it would enable Google not only to display books that are out of copyright and those that are in print by cooperating publishers, as it does today, but also those from the vast collection of in-copyright brooks that are out of print--even when those holding rights to those books didn't specifically agree to Google's plan.
The complicated proposed settlement invoked the wrath of some authors concerned it would grant Google monopolistic power over online publishing, and the court extended the deadline for authors to choose whether to opt out of the settlement from May to September. Then the other shoe dropped this month: the Justice Department signaled serious antitrust scrutiny by issuing subpoena-like civil investigative demands, or CIDs, to check into the matter.
AIG and General Motors apparently are too big to fail. But the way the opposition to Google Book Search is shaping up, it looks like some believe Google is too big to succeed. … Read more