I think Wu's reasonably astute about the principles. However, I also think that it's a mistake to think that opponents of Google Print are really motivated by principles of any kind. The Authors Guild and others do not really want Google Print to omit their books. If they did, then they could just take advantage of Google's offer to opt out, but they're not doing that --- they're trying to get Google to leave everyone's books alone. Why is that?
Well, what goes through an author or publisher's head when confronted with Google Print? Unless (s)he's a complete idiot, it must be something like:
- Holy cow, you didn't ask my permission! Get your grubby mitts off my work!
- Oh, you'll let me opt out? Fine: "Get your grubby mitts---"
- ...wait a second. If I opt out, it just means that other books will get exposure, and mine won't! I'll be at a competitive disadvantage!
This is why the publishers don't want to opt out of Google Print. Each individual publisher knows that unless everyone opts out, the ones who do will be at a disadvantage. And publishers can see at a glance that something like Google Print would increase the total market for books, so they don't even really want everyone to opt out.
Their real goals are twofold:
- They want a cut of Google's profits. They want to get paid not only on the "back end" (where customers buy their books) but on the "front end" (where customers search for their books).
- They want control of the sales channel. They especially want to control whether (and how) competing products get presented alongside theirs in search results. As a bonus, they'd love to completely eliminate competition from all those pesky, obscure, out-of-print books, which are only available used and hence net publishers no profits anyway. Coincidentally, these books are the hardest ones to get copyright clearances for, and therefore the ones most likely to be unavailable if Google's required to get explicit permission for each book.
That's all it's about: greed, plain and simple. The principles of copyright are only a fig leaf over publishers' tumescent desire for a piece of the search business.
In the end, this isn't about whether Google Print will continue to exist, because it (or something like it) will. It's only a question of which Google Print our society chooses for itself. If the Authors Guild and their ilk prevail, then the result will be an impoverished Google Print, one with far fewer books (and far fewer older books), and one where publishers hold veto power over the functionality and design of the service. If Google prevails, then the result will be an organic, ever-growing wealth of services, offered by Google and by others, competing with one another to help our society achieve the second and third of S. R. Ranganathan's famous laws of library science: every book its reader, and every reader their book.