On its quest for world domination, Google just got one battle closer last week. After a lot of legal wrangling and a lot of money, Google is now cleared to allow millions of people to access the vast, in-copyright bounties of Google’s digitization efforts directly from their computers. This settlement between the Internet mogul and a group of publishing companies, which still must be approved by a federal district court judge, is a great victory for the expansion of knowledge. It’s also a win that seems to benefit everyone, especially here at the University.

Last week’s settlement is a resolution of sorts to a years-long battle between Google and publishing companies. In December 2004, Google launched Google Book Search, a project to digitize books from many libraries, including the University of Michigan’s, and offer them online. Because many books, depending on a number of criteria, have expired copyrights, Google could offer these without problems. But there’s one big problem: what to do with the millions of books still under copyright?

Google and a collection of angry publishers and authors solved that problem last week. Along with paying $125 million, Google will now offer a variety of purchasing options for its digitized in-copyright books. The publishers and authors will then allow Google to offer previews of in-copyright books free to any users and completely free to library systems. Like any good settlement, this is a win-win for both sides.

This settlement is directly beneficial the University. Because the settlement expands some of the texts Google will be able to offer, Google’s project at the University can move forward with less hesitancy. This will both allow the University’s library system to preserve its collection of books and offer to the world texts that are unique to its collection — the two main reasons the University’s partner with Google has been heralded from the beginning.

For students, the settlement may not seem all that beneficial, but down the line it could be. Through the University’s library system, students will be able to view free of charge many in-copyright books that they wouldn’t have been able to view before. That includes textbooks that they can view online, instead of purchase. This capability may even become the future of textbooks, as accompanying technology like Amazon’s electronic book reader, the Kindle, makes digital texts more useful.

Above all, though, this settlement furthers Google’s goal of making information as available and accessible as possible. As Google does this, publishers and authors have every reason to protect their copyrights and intellectual property. But that doesn’t make Google’s goal any less laudable. Widely available information will even the playing field for people across the world and help share our single best resource on this planet: knowledge.

Now that the legal issues are set aside, Google can continue to progress toward what may ultimately be the future of academic resources and books in general.

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