The Immaterial Text: Digital Technology, the Google Book Settlement, and the Distribution of Print Culture in the United States

Daniel Raff, The Wharton School

Entreprises et Histoire, No. 64, September 2011, pp. 146-155

Abstract: In 2004 the Internet search firm Google announced an ambitious plan to scan and render searchable the contents of major research libraries. This amounted to a large-scale effort to render the contents of the books into immaterial and easily manipulated and transferred information. Google was sued for copyright violation and a complex settlement was in due course worked out by the litigants and proposed to the court. The settlement terms, which were eventually rejected by the court, attracted world-wide interest: if implemented they would, among many other consequences, change many libraries from repositories to points of free distribution of book content and more broadly represent large steps towards democratizing access to the contents of the research libraries. This paper probes the motives behind the proposed settlement and analyzes the ways the settlement would have fundamentally changed the institutions for the distribution of print culture. As these legal events proceeded, digital technology was beginning to make significant changes in the way the retail distribution of print culture proceeds and the paper situates the Google Book Settlement proposal in that context. Whatever the eventual fate of Google’s initiative, profound changes in this segment of the distribution sector seem to be under way.

Read the full article here.