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Big book news from Google

Google has reached a settlement agreement in the lawsuit brought by publishers who were afraid that awareness of the existence of the publishers’ books might leak out onto the Internet. (Non-biased translation: Google has settled with the publishers suing over its book search service.)

As far as I can tell from Google’s plain-English explanation (which, overall, is exceptionally clear), the default for out-of-print books that are still under copyright will be that they are available through Google Book Search. You’ll be able to not only see snippets (as now) but will be able to purchase them, with the money being distributed through a new, independent, book rights registry. In addition, libraries and universities will be able to purchase site licenses for all the books Google’s scanned.

For books currently in print and under copyright, it sounds like not much has changed. Google says publishers can “turn on” the purchase and preview options. Couldn’t they before?

Once this settlement is agreed on, we will have what sounds like a reasonable program for working within the bounds of copyright. Much will depend, of course, on what the pricing is.

Now we have to work on fixing copyright so that it serves its original purpose — providing an incentive sufficient to bring authors to write — rather than being used to create an artificial scarcity to serve the economic interests of an industry entrenched in a ditch carved into paper.

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Wendy Seltzer worries that Google will now become iTunes for books …

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