Is the DoJ filing, the nail in the coffin of the Google Books Settlement? James Grimmelmann, who has been following these things as closely as anybody, thinks that it is increasingly unlikely that the Settlement will be approved (which is how I interpret this tweet: “I’m updating my priors on the chances of the settlement’s passage downward substantially.” — James, poor guy, has been reading too many briefs these last few months).

So, if the Settlement is not approved, what happens next? In fact, even if the Settlement is approved since it will be ensnared in appeals and delays for years yet to come we might well wish to know: what happens next? The most visible part of the grand Google library project, university-based subscriptions to most of 20th Century literature and published knowledge, modest royalty streams flowing to orphaned works, public access terminals in libraries etc, is stalled. The Books Right Registry may not come to pass. There are three good things that could and should nevertheless happen when Google finally washes its hands of the Settlement and shrugs off its law suits:

  1. There should be a way of delivering the original index-ing service that was the primary goal when the whole exercise began. Negotiating for that to emerge, may be a way of letting the Author’s Guild and the APA off the nasty hook that they have constructed for themselves and Google. It would also, of course, be a way for Google to satisfy many of the obligations it has by now built up to its library partners.
  2. Google may finally get round to delivering Google Editions, about which there has been some talk, and more than a little rumour. But if it really is going to appear in the first half of 2010 it was time that it had a bit more visibility.
  3. Google should give greater prominence to Google Scholar which has been for too long a neglected but steadily useful aspect of the Google service

Whatever Judge Chin decides, Google has 10 million+ books scanned, databased, interpreted and searchable in its servers. It has had a good deal of encouragement and collaboration from the publishing industry and I can’t see the publishers really wanting to pursue their original copyright infringement suit to the bitter end. Those books are going to be put to some use at some point. I bet there is intense internal debate at the Googleplex about what to do next. The critical mass of 10 million books will be part of the answer.