This is the first in a series of posts evaluating the proposed Google Book Search settlement.

When it announced its Book Search project in 2004, Google set for itself an inspiring and noble goal. In the words of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, "Imagine yourself at your computer and, in less than a second, searching the full text of every book ever written." What started as a dream of universal book search, however, has become something much broader: a class action lawsuit and proposed settlement that hopes to let Americans read, as well as search, millions of books online.

The fate of that more ambitious plan is now before a court in New York. In the face of opposition from many quarters (including EFF and the U.S. Department of Justice), Google and class representatives for authors and publishers recently revised the proposed settlement (aka "Settlement 2.0", 300-page PDF redline posted here). The court is expected to decide whether to approve the revised settlement sometime in the first half of 2010.

Advocates on both sides have had their say, both in court and elsewhere. In a series of posts, we will be evaluating Settlement 2.0 from a variety of angles intended to illuminate whether it is a good deal for the public, including its impact on access, competition, privacy, censorship, innovation, and fair use. Is Settlement 2.0 the best we can do? The most we can reasonably expect? Not good enough? How does it measure up against our aspirations the future of online digital libraries?

Here's a preview of the overall contours of the debate. The chief benefit of the proposed settlement is the increased public access to books (particularly out-of-print books) that it makes possible. Against this important benefit must be balanced concerns about possible detrimental effects on privacy, competition, innovation, and fair use. Complicating the overall analysis are the requirements and limitations of class action litigation, as well as the inherent difficulty in predicting how copyright owners and readers will respond to the new Google products and services contemplated in the proposed settlement.

In the meantime, if you want to keep track of the latest breaking news regarding the proposed settlement, we recommend Prof. James Grimmelmann's blog, The Laboratorium, as well as The Public Index, which includes a handy, linkable, annotatable copy of the entire proposed settlement agreement. For the latest from Google about Google Books, we recommend the Google Book Search blog and Google Public Policy blog.