In all of the discussion around the Google books settlement, I'm not hearing anything about the implications of this fundamental change in direction on the basic business of Google.
Google's motto is "don't be evil". Ethically, this would be a good model for any of us; for a search engine, this is also the basis of, and reason for, the trust that most of us continue to have in Google.
What will the impact of licensing books be on this trust? Based on my experience, it would be very difficult indeed for any company to maintain the kind of trust that Google has built, with a licensing approach. Aside from the trust barrier that the toll barrier per se raises, there will inevitably be times when access is inappropriately denied. For example, the imperfections of any authentication system mean that at times, toll access will be denied even to those who have paid the tolls.
More importantly, by getting involved with Google Books, no doubt with the very best of intentions, Google has accidentally walked into a situation that creates many an unintended evil. There are many aspects of analysis, which I do not have time to write about in full, so perhaps an example will suffice for now.
With the current settlement, Canadian books are covered as our copyright laws are similar to those of the U.S.; however, this settlement does not extend beyond the U.S., so these books will only be accessible to Americans, not Canadians. A U.S. citizen will have access to a book where even the family of the author, or the group that the Canadian author wrote about, has no access.
If my own recently-published book, Scholarly Communication for Librarians, had been published just a few months earlier, it would be included in Google Books. This means that it would be readily available to U.S. citizens, but not to the people of my country whose taxes paid the lion's share of my public education, nor to the library school at the University of British Columbia that gave me the opportunity to teach scholarly communication, the course that was the basis for this book.
One obvious remedy is to remove all foreign-published books from Google Books; indeed, with the current settlement, most foreign books have already been eliminated. This may help to advance Google Books from a purely legalistic standpoint - but what does this do to the likelihood of Americans developing a more inclusive, global view? The easily accessible and usable digital library is very likely to replace the print collections for a great many students; if foreign books are removed, this means that the chances that American students will be exposed to ideas from outside the U.S. will greatly diminish. This short term advantage for the U.S. will likely create much greater disadvantages in the medium term. Americans will be less able to compete in global markets, for example, and less prepared to diagnose, address, and prevent security problems - including developing the broad-based cross-cultural perspective that all of us need to live in harmony in our globalized world.
To borrow a phrase from Freire: what to do? Here is some advice to Google, from a friend:
Plan to get out of the Google Books business at the soonest possible opportunity. How?
Put the books back where they belong. If they are from the public domain, put the electronic versions into the public domain, equally available to all - including competitors. "Scanned and made available by Google" on the book is appropriate. Print on demand would be a useful and not-evil service. If they are in copyright, give them back to the copyright owners - the publishers and author. By all means, negotiate compensation such as a share of profits to recoup the monies spent on digitization. But the sooner Google is out of the licensing business, the better for trust in Google. If the works are orphan works, leave this matter with the legislators; join with the Open Contact Alliance to find a solution that will work for everyone.
As a PhD student, I see the benefits of this approach and would love to have access to this great electronic library. What an advance this would be, over our current situation where every copy of an important book owned by any library that could provide a copy in reasonable time, may be on loan, and the chances that the book is available through a bookstore slim to none. Not to mention the research advantages of being able to search the texts of books, even the books that we own in print. Thank you to Google, and to the libraries involved, for pushing the envelope and showing all of us what can be achieved.