Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Google settles out-of-print books dispute

From Stephen Foley in The Independent:
Google has settled lawsuits brought by authors and book publishers, including the UK's Pearson, with a deal that will make millions of out-of-print books available on the internet.

The US-only deal, announced yesterday, creates a Book Rights Registry, which will funnel payments from Google's controversial book search service to the people who hold the copyright. The search company has spent several years making digital copies of all the books held in US libraries so that users can search them, but it has attracted criticism from publishers, who said it was infringing their copyrights. Some have signed up individual deals to share revenue from advertising sold alongside the searches and the sale of the digital copies, but others have fought the entire plan through the US courts.
Full details of the settlement, agreed in response to suits brought by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and various publishers, are available on the Google Books website.

As The Independent's report says:
Under the deal, which still has to be rubber-stamped by a judge, Google will spend $125m (£79m) compensating the authors and publishers and creating the registry for out-of-print works.
Update (10.26pm): Chris Snyder in Wired magazine has a good account of this story:
With the incentive of being paid something, authors and publishers now have little reason to fundamentally oppose the project few probably did anyway on principle alone.

But by creating a market (and now by settling) Google has provided a bit of a windfall for the content holders, whose out-of-print works were not likely to get back into "print" any other way, with the establishment of a new non-profit Book Rights Registry to manage royalties.

Authors are the ultimate winner, says Laura Martin, an analyst with Soleil Media Metrics, “because it gives them a precedent so that anything that Google puts on there, anything Google does in the digital space, it will have to recognize and pay the copyright owner.”
Update (30.10.08): Blogger Martyn Daniels, however, has some concerns.
A hefty slice of all future revenues will remain with Google and as with any division of money, someone will have to pay for that slice. So what’s in it for booksellers? What will be the relationship between authors and publishers as they become tethered for life with no divorces? What will it mean to consumers as they become faced not with a huge virtual choice but everything ever published at a click?
Update 31.10.08: Writers' Guild of Great Britain General Secretary, Bernie Corbett, says:
“This is hugely significant for our book-writing members and we will ensure they are in on the ground floor. Watch this space for detailed advice on what you need to do to share in this digital-age publishing phenomenon. We will hold meetings to discuss the implications with the Society of Authors, Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, Copyright Licensing Agency and British Copyright Council."

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