Yesterday I emoted a bit on the prospect of an all-information-all-the-time database which the public could access for free, and as exemplars of this paradigm shift away from market-driven pay-as-you-go access to information I cited Project Gutenberg and Google Books. While Project Gutenberg’s 30,000+ tomes are indeed free — really free — to anyone with access to a computer or virtually any e-reader with a USB port, my reference to Google Books was more optimistic than exemplary. While Google has already scanned and plans to offer over 12 million books to the public pursuant to the the Google Books Settlement (the revised version of which is still pending court approval based on Justice Department concerns), the reality is that these books won’t be free. You can look at 20% of any book for free (by default), but Google Books will charge you a fee to access the entire book. While digitizing all books is obviously the only way to ensure their continued availability and survival, the myriad of problems surrounding ownership rights and the ever-present-issue of “Who gets paid?” still have a few kinks to be worked out. Although they may not be insurmountable, at the moment these kinks loom Everest-like over the prospect of a happy ending. Under the current regime, that book you can check out at the library and read for free? You can’t read it online without paying a fee. For a detailed discussion of the copyright issues surrounding the Google Books Settlement, see the article by Annalee Newitz of io9.com here.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.