Google Book Settlement

The Author’s Guild and the Google Library Project have reached a settlement that appears on its face to be the lesser of all evils.  How well that appearance will hold up under scrutiny is anyone’s guess.

Very briefly, here’s how it is supposed to work:

Google continues to scan copyrighted books into its database so that users can search the full text of the scanned books.  A Book Rights Registry (BRR), which will be comprised of a board of directors consisting of an equal number of representatives of publishers and authors, will be in charge of distributing payments from Google to the copyright owners.

The payments will be distributed in the following manner:  Google will receive 37% of the profits and the other 63% will go to the BRR.  Google plans to generate revenue through advertising and by selling the ability to see full text to the users.  Google will also make a minimum payment of 45 million up front to the BRR for distribution to those authors whose books have been scanned by January 5, 2009.

So what happens to your book if you do not opt out of the agreement and your book is scanned?  According to the settlement, after a individual has purchased a book from the Google Library, that individual will be able to access that book from any computer; copy and paste up to four pages of the purchased book with a single command and the entire book with multiple commands; print up to twenty pages with one command and the entire book with multiple commands; make book annotations, which is user generated text that will be displayed on any web page where a page of the book appears.

This all sounds like a great deal for the person who purchases a book via the Google Library until the fine print stipulates that certain portions of books (such as pictures, prefaces, etc.) for which no copyright release can be procured will be blank.

Authors are placed in a tenuous position with this settlement, because the Google settlement addresses electronic rights, as well.  Mr. Ashley Grayson of the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency makes some excellent points in his post (listed below) regarding the adverse distribution of electronic rights to writers and their works in the settlement.  Pay special attention to what he says regarding Google’s attempt to set the standard for electronic rights to books, because once the precedent has been set, all courts will follow the leader.

This settlement isn’t exactly great news from the library standpoint, either.  For public and academic libraries the settlement provides for at least one free Public Access Service (PAS) per institution.  There are provisions within the settlement for institutions that will allow users to see the full text of books that are stored in the Institutional Subscription Database (ISD).  HOWEVER, this database will not include commercially available books, but will only include books that are within the in-copyright category of the settlement.  Access to these books will not be perpetual and will only continue for the duration of the subscription.

The American Library Association (ALA) has made a statement on the settlement that they filed in a brief to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  In this brief, the ALA expresses concerns over an absence of competition that could “compromise fundamental library values including access to information, patron privacy and intellectual freedom.”  (You can read the entire press release by clicking here.)

In terms of libraries and our limited funding, everyone should keep in mind that the initial low prices promised by Google are just that – initial.  The settlement allows for future adjustments, which will be dependent on sales data meaning that subscriptions will eventually rise much like journal subscriptions in the last few years.

If you are an author who has had a book published prior to January 5, 2009, you are part of this class action suit.  It is vital that you educate yourself and pay attention to the deadlines so that you can opt out of this settlement if you so desire.

I have tried to put together a list of sites that delineates both the pros and the cons of the issue to better enable an author to make an informed decision.  A few sites where you can view information that explains the Google Book Settlement and its possible implications are [in alphabetical order]:

The American Library Association Google Book Settlement;

The Ashley Grayson Literary Agency The Google Settlement [please note that this post was placed online prior to the new deadline for opting out of the Google Settlement.  The opt out deadline has been extended to: September 4, 2009.];

The Ashley Grayson Literary Agency also has a Guide to the Google Settlement in a PDF document [please note that this document was placed online prior to the new deadline for opting out of the Google Settlement.  The opt out deadline has been extended to: September 4, 2009.]

The Authors Guild Court Extends Time to Opt Out of Google Settlement by Four Months

Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock


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