Not everyone has Internet access, it's true. But nearly every library does. So long as public libraries take advantage of the offer, every public library will have a terminal for public access to this database of out-of-print books.
Copyright law isn't being re-written, and Google certainly didn't do this by itself. The public benefits of this settlement are enormous.
I have great difficulty seeing the benefit of this settlement to either public or academic libraries, or by extension, the public(s) that they serve. I fail to see enough oversight being built into the settlement to keep libraries from being price-gouged over time.
“Fully participating” libraries get sweetheart subscription deals (25 years for free in the case of Michigan’s deal) in exchange for providing Google with access to their books for scanning. Thus, large research libraries with large collections and more resources are set even further apart from research libraries with smaller collections (like mine), which is not conducive to the equitable sharing of information that is often produced by publicly funded academics. Libraries are being tantalized with access to a large collection of books that will, over time, become prohibitively expensive to subscribe to if the history of this particular funding model is any indication. The one or two “free terminals” provided in the settlement will not be sufficient for any relatively large academic or public community
; our users will expect us to subscribe for campus-wide or large urban system-wide access.
This settlement will likely end up doing to electronic books what making scholarly journals electronic has done to paper periodicals, which is to raise the prices so much that they become prohibitive, despite the purported intent to base pricing upon “what the market can reasonably bear,” (also one of the Settlement’s pricing criteria). That understanding of “reasonable” is wildly skewed, and does not reflect the realities of library funding.
20 years ago, academic libraries spent from 50-80% (depending on the library) of their budgets on books, and the rest on serials (periodicals/scholarly journals). Now, most libraries spend 80-90% of their budgets on electronic serials (periodicals/scholarly journals) subscriptions, with what’s left (10-20%) going to books. The subscription prices have gone up much faster than inflation (anywhere from 8-15% per year, depending on the vendor), while our budgets stay flat. We cut the monographs budget to keep our journal subscriptions current, and when that money runs out, we cut back on serials, too, which also hinders our ability to subscribe to new titles.
Now the Google Settlement encourages us to do the same thing with books.
I think that there is room in the world for print and electronic books to coexist peacefully. But our budgets aren't currently designed for the model set out in the Google Books Settlement, and given our budget situation, aren’t likely to be anytime soon. Our book budgets are designed to buy the bulk of our individual books ONCE. Not to pay for access to those books each year (the way that we do for serials).
Our profession calls rising serials budgets a “crisis.” Encouraging us to convert our books budget model to the same unsustainable economic model that caused a library financial crisis in the first place seems rather counterintutitive.
In short: if we spend what's left of our meager book budgets (public or academic) on access to Google Books, that leaves even LESS for printed books by SFWA members, which will still remain in demand in the short term at the very least.