Magazine article Information Today

Google Books Settlement Still a Bit Unsettled

Magazine article Information Today

Google Books Settlement Still a Bit Unsettled

Article excerpt

There are some folks who are concerned about Google taking over the information world. With a hearing on the proposed Google Book Search settlement set for early June, several organizations have been raising concerns and objections to the settlement.

Google's Book Search project has a long and well-known history. Google announced the project in 2004 as an effort to digitize the world's books, particularly those that were out-of-print and available in only a few libraries. The project, originally called Google Print, moved forward in two directions: The first was to negotiate rights agreements with publishers for access to in-print materials, and the second was the Google Print Library Project, in which Google partnered with major academic and public libraries to scan the books in their collections.

Library Project

The Library Project was the one that generated both praise and controversy. Google initially proposed to scan the full text of all books in a library's collection, regardless of copyright status. For those books in the public domain, Google would provide the full text of the book in response to a search request. For those books still under copyright, Google would provide a Snippet View, or a small section of the book that was related to the search terms being used. Google would then provide a link to a bookseller or a library where the book could be purchased or borrowed.

Google maintained the position that even though it was copying the entire works, the Snippet View constituted fair use. However, many authors and publishers disagreed; in 2005, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google for copyright infringement.

After nearly 3 years, a settlement was announced in October 2008. In the settlement proposal, Google agreed to pay up to $60 to the copyright owner for each book that had already been scanned. Google would also be permitted to continue to digitize books and pay royalties unless the copyright owner opted out. Google also agreed to fund a new Book Rights Registry, which would collect revenues and pay royalties for the ongoing use of digitized books. Google would pay the copyright holders 63% of all revenues, both from subscriptions to the books and from Google advertising associated with the search pages. Google would retain 37% for its costs and profit. However, this proposed settlement will not be final until the court approves it.

Concerns Emerge

Overall, the initial reaction to the settlement was positive. Both sides focused on the settlement as a means of making long-lost and hard-to-obtain print resources broadly available to the general public. However, as details of the registry and Google's involvement became more widely disseminated, concerns began to emerge.

One concern was that Google was being given a monopoly on the digital publication of orphan works, those materials that are still protected by copyright but, because of age or other reasons, the rights-holder can no longer be identified or located. The settlement permits Google to digitize these works and have them included in the registry. It also exempts Google from copyright infringement for their digitization. While the settlement does not prevent any other organization from also digitizing these orphan works, it would not protect the organization from the risk of an infringement lawsuit. …

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