If you are a regular reader of business or technology news (or for that matter, business technology news), you’ve probably heard a bit about the Google Book Search lawsuit that has been making its way through the courts over the past few years. In 2005, a group that includes The Author's Guild, Pearson's Penguin unit, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster sued Google, which had begun a massive book-digitization project a year earlier. The plaintiffs claimed that by digitizing these books and making them searchable online, Google had committed copyright violation.
The emergence of the Internet and digital technology has been a major challenge for our legal system. With information traveling at unprecedented speeds in unprecedented volume, we’ve been forced to re-define basic legal concepts like propriety, copyright and even basic ownership. The Google Book Search case is a legal landmark. Like the Napster lawsuit before it, the case encapsulates how our twentieth century legal system is on a collision course with twenty-first century technology. After Napster, the way we buy, sell and look for music changed forever. Now that the case appears to be headed toward a resolution, experts like Fred von Lohmann at the EFF are saying that it will “change forever the way that we find and browse for books.”
Of course, we aren’t all experts, and we don’t all have law degrees. If you are a layperson who just wants to know what all of this means, there are a number of places you can turn. ARL offers this great overview, which also includes a “Guide for the Perplexed” if you want more detail. The Fred von Lohmann piece mentioned above is another treasure trove of useful information.
No matter what your level of understanding may be, in the coming months we will all get a chance to experience what this settlement means, and how this new technology will change the way we look at books.