Google Book Search Settlement

The rumours of a settlement were correct. The publishers and Google have settled their law suit (the agreement is here). That is a very good thing and it opens up a new chapter in the development of publishing and digital libraries. The main thing is that digital libraries are going to be incredibly important and a large part of our cloud-based knowledge systems: furthermore they will be run along the lines of the Google Book Search system (database-driven, page-oriented, url-guaranteed, access-managed and to a considerable extent free). There are plenty of interesting blog comments: the Laboratorium, Peter Suber, Medialoper, PersonaNonData, and TechDirt.

There are winners and losers in this settlement, and I agree with the Medialoper view “the only entities that don’t seem to have fared so well are parties who weren’t involved in the suits”; by and large the settling parties look like the winners (Google, publishers, authors and libraries). But I wonder whether there is not an element of a ‘winner’s curse’ about to descend on Google. Some parts of the settlement outline a fantastically complicated and ingenious business model for our future access to digital books. Very specific mechanisms for the pricing of books and the regulation of access, access to content within books, and access from within institutions to digital resources. If you read the stuff about ‘Pricing Bins’ and ‘Pricing Algorithms’ (pp49-50) you will get a good flavour of the extraordinarily detailed prescriptions.

A lot of this setup and this detail really needs to be established by innovation, by experiment and by markets, not by a court approved Settlement to a private dispute. Google may find itself subject to a lot more regulation and attention whilst it attempts to make these business models work (many business models or modes of exploitation are encompassed in the agreement). The settlement appears to be highly transparent and open, but it is not so transparent how the split between authors and publishers and other rights holders is intended to work. That may be a rather crucial consideration which may now be the subject of discussion between the Authors Guild and the AAP!

Advertisements