What Does the Google Book Settlement Mean for the Online Book Market?

The blog post title is a serious question — it is one that I need some help figuring out: What Does the Google Book Settlement Mean for the Online Book Market? There have been stories and speculation about how Google is going to turn the settlement for the class-action lawsuit against its library book scanning project into a monopoly — or in the case of the recent Ars Technica article, a duopoly — of online publishing. I just don’t see it happening without the publishers explicitly allowing it to happen.

The crux of the issue is in the definition of a “book”; according to the preliminary settlement agreement (paragraph 1.16, page 3, emphasis added):

“Book” means a written or printed work that (a) if a “United States work,” as defined in 17 U.S.C. § 101, has been registered with the United States Copyright Office as of the Notice Commencement Date, (b) on or before the Notice Commencement Date, was published or distributed to the public or made available for public access as a set of written or printed sheets of paper bound together in hard copy form under the authorization of the work’s U.S. copyright owner, and (c) as of the Notice Commencement Date, is subject to a Copyright Interest.

The Notice Commencement Date was defined as January 5, 2009 in the court’s order granting preliminary settlement approval (paragraph 16, page 4). In other words, the definition of “book” as it relates to the settlement is something registered with the copyright office and published before January 5, 2009. The settlement does not cover books published after that date. If publishers want books published after that date to appear in the Google Book Search service, they must use the Google Books Partners Program. If Google scans a book that was registered and published after January 5th, it would appear that they would be subject to another lawsuit since the settlement agreement under consideration by the court provides no protection for such scans.

So what am I missing?

  1. There is nothing in the settlement agreement that covers books registered and published after January 5th.
  2. Publishers have a choice to use one or more distribution channels: bricks-and-mortar stores, e-commerce of physical copies, selling digital copies, adding digital copies to Google Book Search, and any other scheme they might dream up.
  3. Publishers don’t seem to be shifting their distribution activities to a Google-only model through the publisher partners program.
  4. A library will still need to purchase books for newly published materials through the channels that publishers choose.
  5. Google may face new lawsuits if it scans books from libraries that were registered/published after January 5, 2009.
  6. A subscription to the anticipated library licensing scheme for the Google Book Search database is not a substitute for traditional library collection development.

Are pundits and prognosticators assuming that the influence of the availability of book scanned from libraries published prior to January 5th will force publishers to put their newly-published content into Google Book Search? Is it conceivable that Google Book Search will be in such a dominant position as to compel publishers to release materials only through Google Books Publisher Partner Program?

If you see things differently, please help me out here…