Clint: Did you actually read the letter sent by Google? I actually consider this to be a perfect example of “don’t be evil.” There are no threats in that letter, Michael Jones, the writer, is just explaining why Gaia hurts Google and in what way he think the Gaia project is violating Google’s Terms of Service. He tells the Gaia project members that he understands their curiosity, even calls them “smart engineer[s] like ourselves”, but asks them to “refocus [their] work toward building an open earth viewer that uses open earth images.”
I don’t think that Google is free to do whatever they want with the images of the earth stored on their server. They most likely have a rather restrictive deal with the actual image providers. And even if they hadn’t, Google probably pays a rather large amount of money to these image providers. I can understand that they don’t want to offer these images for everybody to grab.
I consider this letter to be very kind and understanding, compared to what seems to be standard today: Let the lawyers do the talking, or don’t bothering with the talking at all and just sueing.