Google Settles Book-Scanning Lawsuit
Google's quest to assimilate the sum of human knowledge took a major step forward today when it settled two lawsuits filed by authors and book publishers who sought to stop its Book Search Library Project.
The plaintiffs--led by two trade groups, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers--wanted to prevent Google from scanning and indexing copyrighted books, then allowing users to search and read snippets of their contents. They called that an abuse of their members' copyrights; Google called it a non-infringing "fair use" of the material. (See this contemporary Post story, as well as this 2006 column by my then-fellow tech columnist Leslie Walker.)
Under the deal these parties worked out--provided it gets a judge's approval--Google will pay at least $45 million, at $60 a book, to copyright holders whose works were scanned without permission. It will then set up a mechanism under which users can read more extensive excerpts online--up to 20 percent of the book--or buy the entire title.
The proceeds of these sales, and of any ads displayed next to book search results, will go to authors, minus a 37 percent cut that Google will keep. To free writers from having to invoice Google every quarter, a new Book Rights Registry, modeled after songwriters' organizations like ASCAP and BMI, will collect these payments and distribute them appropriately.
With out-of-print, copyrighted works, authors and publishers will have to opt out of this arrangement; for in-print titles, they'll have to opt into it. In other words, you should initially expect to see far more out-of-print than in-print titles available in their entirety, as publishers and authors decide if they want to take this step for titles they still sell.
Copyright holders can also ask that their works be removed from Google's index--though Google already provides them this option.
Public-domain books will remain fully accessible at no charge. Google will also allow every public library building in the United States to provide free access to any book it's scanned--in or out of print, copyrighted or not--on a single computer.
There's more about this deal at the Web sites of all the parties involved:
* Google provides a reasonably simple explanation of how things will change at its Books Project site.
* The Association of American Publishers provides a frequently-asked-questions document with further details.
* If you've got some time and a fresh pot of coffee, you can read the full 323-page settlement proposal (PDF).
Stories about copyright-policy squabbles are supposed to include winners and losers--so who won and who lost here? I'd have to say the winner's Google. The publishers' and authors' groups had each sought to limit Google's book scanning to titles explicitly authorized by copyright holders--but this settlement assumes the opposite. It even goes so far as to make online availability the default setting for out-of-print works, which solves the problem of "orphan works" vanishing from the market because their authors can't be found to grant permission.
Since I oppose the further expansion of copyright in general, I think this is a good outcome, well worth Google spending the equivalent of loose change found under its sofa cushions. I don't expect all of you to agree, and so the comments await your input.
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