The settlement of the copyright infringement lawsuit against Google for its Book Search tool will, if approved, dramatically alter the way the public obtains and interacts with books. With its new offerings, Google will considerably increase public access to millions of books containing much of the world’s written knowledge and ideas. Moreover, Google’s powerful book search engine will transform how the public conducts research, interacts with written text, and shares information and ideas with others. The settlement deserves court approval because it will unquestionably provide a significant public benefit at a size and scale that is not otherwise likely to be replicated in the near term.
However, the settlement is not perfect and many parties are likely to provide recommendations as to how to address various perceived shortcomings. It will be important for the court to assess these claims. In particular, given the unique role that Google will assume upon approval of the settlement—that of a comprehensive library for research and browsing as well as a major bookstore—we believe that questions of reader privacy must be addressed. Libraries have a long history of protecting reader privacy and safeguarding the right to read anonymously. Indeed, patron circulation records are protected by law against undue disclosure in almost all states in the United States. But, because the settlement is focused specifically on resolving the copyright dispute between Google and the rightsholders, the agreement does not address the full range of reader privacy issues that will confront the new services.