David Rothman pointed me to an article in the Wall Street Journal about Openlibrary.org, a new cooperative initiative between the Internet Archive and a number of public and other libraries. They are creating a digital library containing “more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles” that will be available at member libraries.
And a couple of libraries are contributing scans of a few hundred older works that are still under copyright—which is what got Google in trouble. For books that are still under copyright, the library will treat a physical book and an electronic scan of that book as the same volume: it will check out one e-copy of a book for each physical version of the book it has, and while the e-copy is out the physical one cannot be checked out, or vice versa.
A checked-out e-copy will be automatically rendered inaccessible at the end of the checkout period by DRM, just as with the Overdrive and Fictionwise lending libraries.
Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, has been very critical of Google’s Google Books project and the associated settlement. His point of view is that Google is using the courts to seize to itself the legal ability to do the sorts of things that the Internet Archive has been trying to do. It’s not surprising that Kahle would embark upon a similar plan himself.
Of course, the Authors Guild might well challenge this plan just as it challenged Google’s. Scanning books without permission is arguably against the law, and while tying e-book checkouts to owned copies of printed books is a novel idea it is unclear whether the courts would consider it a fair use. Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild said "it is not clear what the legal basis of distributing these authors’ work would be."
On the other hand, Google went from just wanting to scan books to enable searching and showing limited snippets to having a very ambitious plan to become the next big e-bookstore competing with Amazon, Google, and Apple, just by being sued by and settling with the Authors Guild. Perhaps Kahle could be hoping for the same thing.