5 Ways The Google Book Settlement Will Change The Future of Reading
If you care about the future of books, you need to understand the Google Book Settlement. It's a complicated legal document, but we've talked to some of its architects, detractors, and defenders - and break it all down for you.The Google Book Settlement could easily be the twenty-first century's most important shift in how we deal with copyright in the world of publishing. To understand it, you need a little back story on the previous giant shift in copyright law, which happened about twelve years ago.
Mickey Mouse Protection Act
In 1998, copyright was turned on its head by a piece of legislation often called the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act." Known to policy-makers as the Copyright Extension Act, it was the result of intensive lobbying
by the entertainment industry, led in part by Disney, to extend thecopyright on any work created after 1923. Many of Disney's classic pieces of content, like Mickey Mouse cartoons, were about to pass into the public domain. So the company was naturally interested in keeping control of the Mouse as long as it could.
The Copyright Term Extension Act was good for authors' estates, and for corporations. Under the new rules, copyright would become life of the author plus 70 years - and for works of corporate authorship, 120
years after creation. (Previously, copyright had been life of the author plus 50 years, with 75 years for corporate works.)
The Act also gave birth to a loosely-organized but powerful movement of copyright reformists. Led by activists, scientists, artists, and tech nerds, this movement has stretched from university campuses to the
Supreme Court of the United States, where law professor Lawrence Lessig argued that the Copyright Extension Act was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment (SCOTUS didn't buy it). Over the past decade, many of these reformists migrated to jobs in Silicon Valley, where easily-copied digital media are constantly forcing the question of what copyright really means in the information age.
One might say that the Google Book Settlement (GBS) is the result of this migration. One of the basic injunctions of copyright reform is "share your culture," and the seeds of the GBS come from an admirable
Google project aimed at sharing the knowledge from research libraries with the world.
Many years ago the search company began digitizing the books from several university libraries, pulling every single book from the shelves and making a digital copy. The idea was to make hard-to-access texts
available to anyone, not just people lucky enough to live near a major research school. Via Google Book Search, people would be able to search for keywords in the full text of any book, then read one or two-sentence "snippet" excerpts from it. The Mickey Mouse Protection Act may have stalled the growth of the public domain, but the company's Google Book Search project would broaden it.