The first half of the article is a little verbose and unuseful (imo) but there's some interesting points. I have to say I feel a bit like the author of this article in relation to digitizing books and making them available to everyone, but on the other hand I realize that it isn't likely to happen. I think that the correlation between Google Book Search terminals and subscription periodicals is a good one. University libraries pay just gobs of money for these, and not just actual periodicals but for periodical search engine use. If you've been at a college or university in the last 10 years or so, you know all about the amazing thing that is JSTOR and other article databases, but just to allow their students and faculty to access them there is a huge subscription fee. I'd hate for GBS to become something like this that could only be accessed at universities or with a very expensive personal subscription.
So, this is all very exciting and a little scary all at the same time. I mean Google seems to be doing alright with their "do no evil" thing, but 20-30 years down the line...
Don't get me wrong. I know that businesses must be responsible to shareholders. I believe that authors are entitled to payment for their creative labor and that publishers deserve to make money from the value they add to the texts supplied by authors. I admire the wizardry of hardware, software, search engines, digitization, and algorithmic relevance ranking. I acknowledge the importance of copyright, although I think that Congress got it better in 1790 than in 1998.
But we, too, cannot sit on the sidelines, as if the market forces can be trusted to operate for the public good. We need to get engaged, to mix it up, and to win back the public's rightful domain. When I say "we," I mean we the people, we who created the Constitution and who should make the Enlightenment principles behind it inform the everyday realities of the information society. Yes, we must digitize. But more important, we must democratize. We must open access to our cultural heritage. How? By rewriting the rules of the game, by subordinating private interests to the public good, and by taking inspiration from the early republic in order to create a Digital Republic of Learning.
Google's record suggests that it will not abuse its double-barreled fiscal-legal power. But what will happen if its current leaders sell the company or retire? The public will discover the answer from the prices that the future Google charges, especially the price of the institutional subscription licenses. The settlement leaves Google free to negotiate deals with each of its clients, although it announces two guiding principles: "(1) the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of the Rightsholders and (2) the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education."
What will happen if Google favors profitability over access? Nothing, if I read the terms of the settlement correctly. Only the registry, acting for the copyright holders, has the power to force a change in the subscription prices charged by Google, and there is no reason to expect the registry to object if the prices are too high. Google may choose to be generous in it pricing, and I have reason to hope it may do so; but it could also employ a strategy comparable to the one that proved to be so effective in pushing up the price of scholarly journals: first, entice subscribers with low initial rates, and then, once they are hooked, ratchet up the rates as high as the traffic will bear.
While I do wonder what prompted this, I'm not as upset as all that about it. While he's done good work, and I've enjoyed quite a bit of it, I really was starting to get tired of his particular take on Cap.