[Note: I wrote this post on February 5, but held it back until I’d made my decisions about where I would be next year. Now that such decisions have been made, here it is…]
I think The New Yorker is probably one of the few mainstream media outlets that actually takes the time to provide deep, quality coverage of technology issues these days. I liked their article on Wikipedia over the summer, and I like their article on Google Books now.
I think the point about the potential chilling effects of a Google-Publisher/Author settlement are well taken — but so is the point that the project is not, in fact, “evil.” The Google Books Library Project could do a great deal of good in the world; but considering that other, similar projects could parallel and expand on these benefits, I hope Google doesn’t take steps that would effectively block such initiatives from gaining a foothold.
Last year, I had a conversation with Rick Prelinger about Google Book and the OCA, the latter of which he was then the head. I came away from it with the impression that the OCA partners did not see themselves as competing with Google, so much as building a different, but in some ways parallel and similarly beneficial, mass digitization initiative. Brewster Kahle has also spoken about how he hopes the OCA might start with the public domain, and as people start to see it and like it, it might move into more controversial source materials (such as orphan works). If Google settles, such a move on the OCA’s part might end up depending more on financial payoffs to the publishers than acceptance by the public. This worries me.
I still think the Google Library project has a great deal to offer the world, as well as a great deal to offer libraries. And I still think (unlike some) that it has been a boon to the copyright debate, in that the snippets may help wake up the general public to the amount of their culture they’re missing out on due to arcane and misguided legislation. I just hope the company chooses their steps carefully going forward.
Also, random tiny ego note: the reporter who wrote the article requested my notes for a Google Books event we had here at Michigan…but it doesn’t really look like he used them. Kinda neat to think I might’ve contributed something though.