A settlement plan for the suits filed by the AAP and the Authors' Guild about Google Book Search, was announced earlier today. Hailed by many (especially those involved in its negotiation) as a landmark agreement, there is a lot in it to digest. My sense is that today, many publishers will be scratching their heads trying to work out how they feel about the news. The received wisdom amongst those specialising in media law is that Google would have won the fair use argument if this had ever gone to court. Yet despite an inherent distrust of this multi-million dollar corporation's intentions, it seems churlish not to see the bright side of the settlement. Google has been seen by many publishers as a frenemy for some time now and this agreement places them pretty clearly at the top of publishers' best frenemy list. The agreement, after all, acknowledges that Google needs to recognise the differences between out of copyright and in-copyright works; it gives rights holders of in-copyright works the power to opt in to 'preview' and 'purchase' functions as opposed to the previously held invidious assumption that the onus should be on publishers to opt out; the settlement money will partially be used to fund an independent, not-for-profit Book Rights registry which will work towards ensuring authors and publishers receive the money they are owed under the agreement, and the revenue split between the rights holder and Google is set at 63-37 respectively, which is surely the right way round. Many publishers must also be grinning to think of the impact of this announcement on Amazon. Whilst it has carefully been building up the walls around its walled garden, Kindle, Google has quietly and cunningly been working away on a plan which makes it the gateway and the marketplace for all digitised books, and without the need for a dedicated device. It must be good for there to be a strong competitor to Amazon, mustn't it? And it adds an interesting and powerfully pro-online access dimension to the debate about whether the future of digital reading lies in digital downloads to buy and 'own' or online access through a subscription.
Thing is, and this is where the head scratching comes in, it still just feels plain scary that Google has taken yet another giant leap towards dominating and shaping the future of publishing.