I have some misgivings about the Google Book Search settlement, mostly to do with the fact that a settlement means that Google won't litigate the fair use question of whether making a copy of a work in order to create a search engine infringes copyright. Those misgivings don't trump my delight at the idea of guaranteeing public access to all these books, and the restoration of orphan books to public hands.
As Google expands its Google Book Search service, adding millions of titles, it will dramatically increase the public's access to books. More and more people will soon be browsing, reading and purchasing books online. But Google may be leaving out the privacy we have come to expect, with systems that monitor the digital books you search, the pages you read, how long you spend on various pages, and even what you write down in the margins.
To ensure that our privacy remains at least as strong online as it is in the physical world, Google needs to do more. With the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley, EFF has written a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, demanding that Google take specific steps to protect your freedom to read privately. We've asked that Google only respond to legitimate warrants when the government comes calling, for example, and we've asked that they not share your private reading data with third parties without your permission, among other things.
Now, we need you to join us in the fight to defend reader privacy -- take action and tell Eric Schmidt that you demand the same privacy for your online reading habits that you enjoy when reading paper.
But the issue of privacy is much more grave. I want Google to create a binding, written agreement to hold readers' information private, so that the future of reading doesn't include the possibility of warrantless spying on your book-reading activity. For complex legal reasons, it's unlikely that anyone will ever be in a position to give Google a settlement permitting this again, so this is it. The status quo Google sets will be the one that we end up living with for the foreseeable future.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.