Google Books Settlement: Taking the Long View

The Media Institute


By Peter S. Menell

From ancient origins in the ill-fated Library of Alexandria through the Middle Ages and into modern copyright regimes, societies have long sought to preserve and catalog human knowledge and make it publicly accessible. For much of history, however, these goals have been elusive due to the cost of assembling and storing works, the impermanence of paper and ink, and the inherent limitations on access to physical copies.

Google’s bold announcement in December 2004 that it intends to scan, digitize, and make universally searchable the collections of leading libraries brought the timeless aspirations of enlightened societies within reach and marked the beginning of a new era for scholars, authors, and other users of recorded knowledge. For public domain works, users would be able to search, retrieve, and download the full documents. For works still under copyright protection, Google would provide Boolean search capability.