By Nate Anderson | Published: October 06, 2006 – 02:31PM CT
Google is embroiled in litigation with book authors and publishers over the Google Book Search program, in which Google has indexed millions of books and made them fully searchable—though it displays only snippets of text for works still in copyright. Despite this limitation, those involved in producing books believe that Google is illegally attempting to profit from their work. They want Google to seek licenses from publishers before making the books available for searching, but Google continues to insist on an “opt-out” approach to the program.
Their subpoenas to other tech companies are designed to discover more information about how similar programs work, probably with the intention of showing that Google isn’t doing anything unusual. The Amazon subpoena, for instance, asks for a pile of information about the Amazon Book Project. Google wants to see “documents sufficient to show you possess the legal right to include each book in the Amazon Book Project, including all licenses” and “all documents concerning any dispute with the Authors Guild, any author, or any copyright holder.”
Similarly, Google wants to know more about the work of the Open Content Alliance, a group that includes both Microsoft and Yahoo. The OCA is also busy scanning millions of books from libraries and publishers, with one big difference—where copyrighted works are concerned, publishers need to “opt-in.”
In Google’s view, this is a surefire way to limit people’s legitimate access to information, and requiring “opt-in” could decimate much of Google’s business if it spreads to news, search, images, etc. For publishers and authors, Google’s “opt-out” approach sets a dangerous precedent for other companies wanting to make a buck off someone else’s work.
With neither side ready to budge and subpoenas flying across the country, a settlement looks unlikely, at least for now, though Google may ultimately prefer a settlement to a ruling that could go either way. By letting the case go all the way to judgement, Google is spinning the Big Money Wheel: a win could insulate it from similar claims by other content producers, while a loss could suddenly mean a very long line of people knocking at the door of the Accounting Department.