In part because of that ambition, Googleâ€™s endeavor is encountering opposition. A federal court in New York is considering two challenges to the project, one brought by several writers and the Authors Guild, the other by a group of publishers, who are also, curiously, partners in Google Book Search. Both sets of plaintiffs claim that the library component of the project violates copyright law. Like most federal lawsuits, these cases appear likely to be settled before they go to trial, and the terms of any such deal will shape the future of digital books. Google, in an effort to put the lawsuits behind it, may agree to pay the plaintiffs more than a court would require; but, by doing so, the company would discourage potential competitors. To put it another way, being taken to court and charged with copyright infringement on a large scale might be the best thing that ever happens to Googleâ€™s foray into the printed word.
In case you don’t get the sense the Toobin’s drunk the Kool-aid from the above quote, there’s this:
But a settlement that serves the partiesâ€™ interests does not necessarily benefit the public. â€œItâ€™s clearly in both sidesâ€™ interest to settle,â€ Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said. â€œBusinesses in Internet time canâ€™t wait around for years for lawsuits to be resolved. Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. Thatâ€™s a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else.â€
[...] In other words, a settlement could insulate Google from competitors, which would be especially troubling, because the company has already proved that when it comes to searches it is not infallible. â€œGoogle didnâ€™t get video search rightâ€”YouTube did,â€ Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said. (Google solved that problem by buying YouTube last year for $1.6 billion.) â€œGoogle didnâ€™t get blog search rightâ€”technorati.com did,â€ Wu went on. â€œSo maybe Google wonâ€™t get book search right. But if they settle the case with the publishers and create huge barriers to newcomers in the market there wonâ€™t be any competition. Thatâ€™s the greatest danger here.â€
[...] The law is supposed to resolve issues like theseâ€”between self-interested parties with reasonable claims and legitimate arguments. But the rules of copyright are so ambiguous, and the courts so slow, that the judicial system serves largely to implement the law of the jungle. â€œThere is a real opportunity to move books into the digital arena,â€ [Google VP in charge of BookSearch] Marissa Mayer told publishers during the conference at the New York Public Library. â€œAnd we are going to do it together.â€
Siva’s pre-release hints