Google Books is a wonderful idea that's having a hard time meeting legal requirements. That's the upshot of the latest round in the battle between the world's search leader and the people who actually create the content Google exploits for huge profits.
It should surprise no one that Google ran into legal challenges after it decided to suck all the world's books and magazines into its search engine. What's surprising to me is that the project has been allowed to continue for so long. This is because it's easy to see value in the project, but hard to see how one company can be allowed to control it.
This is one of those cases of trying to make unbridled capitalism work for the public good when it simply may not be possible. But we must give Google credit for trying.
There ought to be a way to digitise content that is fair to everyone. Yet the latest proposed settlement raises serious monopoly concerns and potentially would set Google up as the world's content tzar, regardless of what content owners think. Or what others might want to do with the content.
I'd like to suggest a new approach: take the profit out of the scheme.
Not for profit
If Google really wants to help preserve content and make it more widely available, as it claims, then how about forming a non-profit organisation to run the project and contract with Google to manage it? Or maybe an organisation that already exists "own" the project?
An independent board of directors would establish business practices, fair play would be assured, and all the profits - from ads on pages - would go to support public libraries and other worthy activities that have been damaged by the growth of the internet.
Everybody wins - except Google, I suppose.
I don't have a problem with Google doing what it is doing, but I don't want a legal settlement today to make decisions reaching far into the future. That forward-looking aspect of the settlement is one of the reasons the US Department of Justice is questioning it.
Google deserves credit for starting this process and for trying to create a legal framework for it. Yet, from what I have seen, it's a project with too many stakeholders for even Google and a federal judge to satisfy. And that's why I believe a totally different approach is required.