John Lanchester does a great piece on Google and copyright–yes, there is something new to say, and he says it:
So: 20% of all books are out of copyright, and Google can have them with everyone’s blessing; 10% are in print, and the lines of argument are fairly clear. The other 70% of books are either in copyright but out of print or in a status about which nobody is certain – “orphan works”, as they are known. (Nobody even knows how many books there are. The best guess seems to be about 32m.) It is over these titles that the big argument between Google and the publishers is taking place. Google wants them to be available online, together with links and places to buy the books. It seems to me this would mean that, in some crucial sense, Google was actually the publisher of the book – and this makes some publishers and writers nervous.
The crucial issue is one of trust. Everyone in the book world can see what has happened to music and is happening to film, and it worries them; the prospect of free digital copies of books is not automatically joyful. Ovenden says “I can’t see how they’ll sell more books by not being in Google” – which has a certain force. There is something horrifying about the idea that 70% of all the books ever published are in the limbo of being out of print. Anything that gives those works a new life and new readers, even if only a few a year, has to be welcome.