I was in Frankfurt when the settlement between AAP and Google occurred. It seemed there was, essentially, a massive shrug.
“They had this lawsuit hanging around for years, and basically the publishers have all moved on,” said James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School who has closely followed the case. “They are selling digitally now. That’s the future. This just memorializes the transition.”
There’s a theory that this might help with the Google/Authors Guild suit. But I think the most salient point out of all of this is the notion that search is a function, not a product. For that function to work properly, content has to be ingested and indexed according to whatever proprietary algorithm the search engine is using.
With a physical book, copying was a step towards distribution. With a digital book, it is not necessarily a step towards distribution. It may simply be a step towards discovery – and the availability of the book is controlled by publishers and retailers.
Copyright fright throttles sales and encourages piracy. We’ve known this for years.
There may be very real reasons why authors don’t want their content ingested into Google’s index. Authors are not publishers – they may wish to keep some things private and not searchable. But I think Google didn’t do itself any favors by ham-handedly ingesting library books without effectively explaining to publishers and authors how search works, and how a search index is not necessarily a violation of copyright. In hindsight, the opt-out privilege makes sense (because who can scale opt-in at the rate of millions?); at the time, it seemed patronizing.
I hope that the Authors Guild suit settles soon, and with a good understanding of copyright versus search. Then we can progress to opening the books – creating links between them, embedding metadata in them, and networking them.