Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace

Intellectual Property, Competition Policy and Antitrust and Copyright and Trademark

Article Snapshot


Pamela Samuelson


Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 94, pp. 1308-1374, 2010; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1535067, 2010


This paper looks at policy issues relating to the settlement of a copyright suit against Google Book Search.

Policy Relevance

Everyone would benefit from an alternative digital repository of books in a position to compete with Google Book Search.

Main Points

  • Several groups representing authors and book publishers sued Google in 2005, charging that Google’s massive scanning of books as part of Google Book Search violated copyright law.
  • The proposed settlement of the lawsuit, if approved, would enable Google to provide far broader access to portions of out-of-print books.
  • Some observers are glowingly optimistic about the future of books if the settlement is approved, because it will make so much knowledge openly accessible to the public.
    • Google will also be able to make non-public use of many books’ content to improve search and translation tools.
  • More pessimistically, publishers worry that the settlement will make it easy for the public to get books without paying for them, and that it will tempt authors to become their own distributors.
    • Librarians worry that the settlement would empower Google to charge higher prices for access to content, while other outlets are supplanted.
    • Authors worry that books sold through Google might sell for very low prices.
    • Readers worry that Google will track their reading behavior or will censor books.
  • Yahoo! is concerned that the settlement would give Google too much of a competitive advantage in refining its search engine.
  • Congress is better positioned to consider how to adapt copyright law to new technology than a single court resolving a single lawsuit.
  • If the settlement is rejected, the dispute might be resolved by the abandonment of the lawsuit, by a final judgment in the lawsuit, or by Congress.

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