Google also digitized an ever-increasing number of library books that were protected by copyright in order to provide search services that displayed small snippets of the text. In September and October 2005, a group of authors and publishers brought a class action suit against Google, alleging violation of copyright.... . Google will sell access to a gigantic data bank composed primarily of copyrighted, out-of-print books digitized from the research libraries. Colleges, universities, and other organizations will be able to subscribe by paying for an "institutional license" providing access to the data bank. A "public access license" will make this material available to public libraries, where Google will provide free viewing of the digitized books on one computer terminal. And individuals also will be able to access and print out digitized versions of the books by purchasing a "consumer license" from Google, which will cooperate with the registry for the distribution of all the revenue to copyright holders. Google will retain 37 percent, and the registry will distribute 63 percent among the rightsholders.
What, Darnton asks, if Google seeks to maximize profits by raising prices once users have been "hooked"?
Google has already scanned 7 million books, of which 5 million are copyrighted but out-of-print, 1 million are copyrighted by in print, and 1 million are public domain. The money lies, as you can guess based on these numbers, in the 5 million that have been scanned but are otherwise available. To print one of these, you need to pay. You need to pay Google and the author (or the rightsholder).
Darnton pines pretty much throughout his slightly turgid and decidedly romantic essay for a centralized and idealized service to ensure that the fruits of reason are available to all. Of course, the Age of Reason was so called because they--Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant--turned reason into a hallucinogen. They used reason to explore the human mind and the nature of reality. The minor thinkers Jefferson, Franklin and Madison, whom Darnton cites, used reason to lay the groundwork for a voracious, powerful, but only fitfully rational state. (The United States that they created is more Rabelaisian than rational.)
So what of Google Books? I say, the government had its chance, scanners have been around for 15 years. Governments in non-English-speaking countries still have chances. But Google has found a motive, or several, they've created partnerships with authors, they've actually scanned 7 million books. Which is way more than the Library of Congress has scanned. And they're going to put a computer terminal in every library to promote access to the books that they've scanned. (Don't these libraries already have computers? Uh-huh. Can't all computers access the books? Uh-huh.) Darnton's problem, perhaps, is that he sees compares the actuality of Google Books to his idealized online library of alexandria. Which isn't happening. If it were, we could talk about it. Darnton's second problem, perhaps, is that he thinks in terms of English-language books, and of their copyright within the US. Do we really want access to all literature and publications that have ever been written in Mandarin to fall under control of today's Chinese government? Would we have wanted control over access to, say, Huck Finn to have fallen under control of the Bush administration?