Lessig: “For the Love of Culture: Google, Copyright, and Our Future”

Lawrence Lessig published “For the Love of Culture: Google, Copyright, and Our Future” in The New Republic (Jan 26, 2010).


There is much to praise in this settlement [Google Books Settlement]. Lawsuits are expensive and uncertain. They take years to resolve. The deal Google struck guaranteed the public more free access to free content than “fair use” would have done. Twenty percent is better than snippets, and a system that channels money to authors is going to be liked much more than a system that does not. (Not to mention that the deal is elegant and clever in ways that a contracts professor can only envy.)

Yet a wide range of companies, and a band of good souls, have now joined together to attack the Google settlement. Some charge antitrust violations. Some fear that Google will collect information about who reads what—violating reader privacy. And some just love the chance to battle this decade’s digital giant (including last decade’s digital giant, Microsoft). The main thrust in almost all of these attacks, however, misses the real reason to be concerned about the future that this settlement will build. For the problem here is not just antitrust; it is not just privacy; it is not even the power that this (enormously burdensome) free library will give this already dominant Internet company. Indeed, the problem with the Google settlement is not the settlement. It is the environment for culture that the settlement will cement.