The digitization of books by Google is a massive project that will result in the privatization of a public good: the contents of libraries. While the libraries will still be there, Google will have a de facto monopoly on the online version of their contents.
While regulation of industry has fallen out of favor in these 'free market' times, we do have a history of making particular demands on companies whose products and services have an important social impact, such as broadcast television or telephone services. This is especially the case where one company has a monopoly on the product area. There are some functions that are just too important to be left to the interests of one company or to market forces, and so we regulate them to protect the interests of civil society.
If I were in a position to require social responsibility of Google and its digitization program, these would be my terms:
While Google is a hot company today, it may not last forever. Actually, it probably won't be around for the 200-odd years that have been covered by the libraries it is working with. To protect against the loss of the digitized books should Google either disband or decide not to continue the Books product line, Google should be required to place the digital copies in escrow, where they will be preserved. My preference would be for the escrow body to be a public institution (or a group of such institutions) that has proven longevity and stable public support.
The First Amendment prevents the government from censoring its citizens, and we rely heavily on this key right as the basis for many of our freedoms. Private companies are not bound by the First Amendment; as a matter of fact, in law they are protected by it as honorary persons. This means two things: first, that private companies can (and do) censor their products, and second, that they can be held liable for any social harm that is perceived if they do not censor. Thus publishers can be held liable for errors of fact in the books they produce, or a company that promises a 'child friendly' web site can be held liable if pornography slips through their filter.
I want Google to have the same right to deliver books to users that publicly funded libraries do. How this could be worked out in terms of law and liability I must leave to others to determine, but what I am thinking of like the of common carrier model that has been used for communications companies. Basically, Google should be required to carry all digital Books without discrimination and without liability.
One of the things that has greatly frustrated librarians in their attempts to use Google products is the lack of information about decisions that are made by the company. Already there have been cases of books being withdrawn from full view without notice, making it hard to rely on the product.
Once we have licensed this product, we have a 'deal' with Google that is different to the open endedness of the free Google products. Part of this deal needs to be that we can be informed about the product we are licensing. If the Book product will be licensed by educational institutions, it has to be possible for those institutions to know the status of works and to understand what decisions can be made. Transparency also implies a process for appeal or at least discussion with the vendor about decisions, because those decisions will affect the value the product has in our environments.
... and probably more
This is just a short list, and this is a blog post, not a final thesis. I present these ideas primarily to begin a discussion about the impact of the Google Books product on the public and in particular on public institutions like libraries and universities. The settlement agreement goes into quite a bit of detail about the business case of the Books product, but says nothing about customer needs or support. As potential customers, libraries have a social responsibility to their users to negotiate the license terms with freedom in mind.