Danger Will Robinson: Google Book Deal Is at DEFCON 2
The Google Book Deal is suspended. Time to cheer, correct? No. As Pam Samuelson noted in the New York Times, that probably is too little time to resolve the issues at hand. In fact I think right now is when the GBD is at quite a dangerous stage.
First neither party represents the public. One cannot expect them to represent the public, and one ought not trust they will do the right thing for the public. To be clear, I am not making a moral judgment here. I expect, as we all should, that each party will seek to maximize its position. Understanding why I refuse to call this situation a settlement helps understand this point. As many know, this action encompasses far more than the claims at issue in the suit. Many think that Google was on strong grounds for its fair use clam and its original use. The Publishers (aka the Registry seeming to be working for authors) saw the chance to get ahead of the digital curve. Unlike music and film, they realized they could look good and capture publishing’s future. They offered Google a deal that Google did not need. Or did it? Although Google is a data vacuum and does well with the ad-based business model, the search giant has been searching for a new revenue stream. Online ads can’t be the only source of revenue from any viewpoint. That is a precarious position. Indeed, the online ad market just took a big dip. The Deal presents Google with the chance to make money from something other than ads.
With this perspective one sees that expecting or trusting either party to look out for the public’s interest is foolish. My guess is that the public choice literature could yield some useful ways to think about the problem too, but I have not thought that through as yet.
Second, Google and the Publishers now have a wave of information from all quarters that they can use to their benefit. Here is the strategy that I expect to see. Assess the most severe and some of the less severe criticisms. Incorporate some of them in changes. Keep the deal as is for the most part (Note that is precisely what the Registry said will be the case “the core agreement is going to stay the same.”). Then when the time to approve, deny, or move the Deal to another form comes, one claims “We acted in good faith. We can’t keep everyone happy. Without this deal no one wins. Can’t we get along, move forward, and sort the details later? That is a more reasonable way to proceed.”
More importantly, those who have kept paying attention to the problem may start to lose focus or fade out. People may become tired or say is this thing still going on?
And that is why I say Danger Will Robinson. The Google Book Deal is at Defcon 2.