Google is reportedly working to make its settlement with book publishers more palatable to the court, but even if the deal goes through, consumers are likely a long way from getting out-of-print "orphaned" books onto their e-readers.
The settlement, in its current state, would allow Google to make large passages of these books, which are in copyright but whose authors can't be found, searchable on the Web. The government and other parties have raised privacy concerns, worrying about Google's observation of what people read. (And not all authors and publishers are satisfied, although their associations signed on to the deal.)
But what really has Amazon, Microsoft and other competitors in a tizzy is the part of the settlement that lets Google sell online access and subscriptions to orphaned books. As the e-reader market heats up, Amazon argues, the Google book settlement would create "a cartel of authors and publishers" who could set pricing and availability without restrictions.
These opponents would have a harder time setting up their own market of orphaned materials because they'd have to create an agreement with publishers and authors from scratch, instead of making a settlement in court.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice dealt a blow to Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers, saying the settlement between the three parties violates antitrust and copyright laws. The DOJ advised a U.S. District Court not to approve the settlement unless it is modified. Though the government seems to want the settlement to go through in the end, the slow pace of government and courts means we could be waiting a long time.
Google and its settlement partners are motivated to quickly address the DOJ's concerns, but delays are inevitable. It seems unlikely that the deal will be approved on October 7, when the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has scheduled a hearing on the matter.
All parties must agree to any settlement, and even then, the opponents could still make legal challenges. All this could take awhile.
Maybe it's not all bad. With any luck, Google will start selling the orphaned books just as the e-reader glut hits full swing.