An editorial in the Washington Post by Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, highlights the tricky position we now face as Google becomes more enmeshed in the workings of the internet. In particular, it appears a court settlement may allow Google to grab distribution rights for millions or even billions of books:
And under this settlement, authors who come forward to claim ownership in books scanned by Google would receive $60 per title. … But the settlement would also create a class that includes millions of people who will never come forward. For the majority of books — considered “orphan” works — no one will claim ownership.
Google would get an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to these in-copyright but out-of-print orphans, which make up an estimated 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. No other provider of digital books would enjoy the same legal protection.
I love Google and use their search engine all the time. I think as a corporation it behaves fairly well. At the same time, I’m wary of putting too many of our technological eggs in one basket. As the author concludes:
We’ve wrestled with high-tech monopolies in the past — IBM, AT&T, Microsoft. The lesson was that such strongholds restrict innovation and competition.