Rumors had been percolating for a while now, and today it was finally announced: Google has reached a settlement with U.S. authors and publishers who had filed lawsuits challenging the massive digitization project of Google Book Search. According to Google's press release, the settlement resolves lawsuits from the Authors Guild and five major publishers (McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin, Wiley, and Simon & Schuster). Google will shell out $125 million, much of which will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, a system for locating and representing copyright holders (a way of dealing with so-called "orphan works").
One key aspect of the settlement, discussed on the Google Book Search blog, is that GBS will now be able to display millions of books that are in copyright but out of print:
With this agreement, in-copyright, out-of-print books will now be available for readers in the U.S. to search, preview and buy online — something that was simply unavailable to date. Most of these books are difficult, if not impossible, to find. They are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they make up the vast majority of books in existence. Today, Google only shows snippets of text from the books where we don't have copyright holder permission. This agreement enables people to preview up to 20% of the book.
That's extremely welcome news for researchers who have been frustrated by the limitations of Google's "snippet view." Now (at least in the U.S.) we'll get far more books in "limited preview," where you can actually see full page images. Even if that viewing option is restricted to 20 percent of a book's page extent, it's still a vast improvement over the godforsaken snippets. Even better, the settlement provides for "free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries," so if you need a book in full view you can just head over to a library — or at least one that carries Google's new institutional subscription. Combined with the establishment of the Hathi Trust for access to public-domain materials (before the 1923 copyright cut-off for U.S. titles), things are definitely looking up for the future of digitized research.