Judge Chin just rejected the settlement and Google is now, "considering its options."
I have written about Google Books Search settlement many times on this blog. Most recently, during the 2010 ALA Conference I wrote,
"any definitive decision in the Google Book Search settlement is a long way off and when it does come the outcome will be more limited and lead to less radical change in library service than I had hoped. In the meantime we have to proceed to provide access to those Hathi Trust public domain titles, and pursue digital book access via licensing with individual packages and unify the search experience for users via services like Summon."
In the early news reports the comments are trending mostly against the settlement, and for Chin's decision. It was the safe one after all. But I am not happy about this. I had hoped this settlement would be a huge leap forward in access to digital books post-1923 as libraries pony-ed up for the "institutional subscription." But it seems we will be sticking digital collections together with spit and baling wire as usual.
Even Chin recognized the huge potential benefits of the settlement for readers. "The benefits of Google's book project are many. Books will become more accessible. Libraries, schools, researchers, and disadvantaged populations will gain access to far more books. Digitization will facilitate the conversion of books to Braille and audio formats, increasing access for individuals with disabilities. Authors and publishers will benefit as well, as new audiences will be generated and new sources of income created. Older books -- particularly out-of-print books, many of which are falling apart buried in library stacks -- will be preserved and given new life."
I can't help but think authors and publishers, and our society at large, have missed a huge opportunity here. However, Judge Chin does (in a classic judicial response to copyright) lay the orphan works issue right back at the feet of Congress. Perhaps this will lead them to finally act on orphan works.