Despite Google currently working on a settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (APP) over its Book Search programme, consumers are likely to be a long way from getting out-of-print 'orphaned' books onto their e-readers.
Under its Book Search scheme, Google scanned and indexed classic books, and in some cases entire collections, from the libraries of major universities. It then made the text of the books searchable on its book search engine.
Google didn't always get permission from the copyright owners of the books, which resulted in a copyright lawsuit bought against Google by the two publishing organisations.
However, Google eventually struck a settlement deal with the two bodies. The settlement, in its current state, would allow Google to make large passages of these books, which are in copyright but whose authors can't be found, searchable on the web.
The government and other parties have raised privacy concerns, worrying about Google's observation of what people read. (And not all authors and publishers are satisfied, although their associations signed on to the deal.)
As the e-reader market heats up, Amazon argues, the Google book settlement would create "a cartel of authors and publishers" who could set pricing and availability without restrictions.
These opponents would have a harder time setting up their own market of orphaned materials because they'd have to create an agreement with publishers and authors from scratch, instead of making a settlement in court.
the US Department of Justice (DoJ) recently dealt a blow to Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers, saying the settlement between the three parties violates antitrust and copyright laws.
The DoJ advised a US District Court not to approve the settlement unless it is modified. Though the government seems to want the settlement to go through in the end, the slow pace of government and courts means we could be waiting a long time.
Google and its settlement partners are motivated to quickly address the DoJ's concerns, but delays are inevitable. It seems unlikely that the deal will be approved on October 7, when the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has scheduled a hearing on the matter.
All parties must agree to any settlement, and even then, the opponents could still make legal challenges. All this could take awhile.
Maybe it's not all bad. With any luck, Google will start selling the orphaned books just as the e-reader glut hits full swing.