Google settles copyright dispute with authors, publishers

Okay, so I’m a bit behind on posting about this but, hey, I’ve been in Australia.

A few weeks ago Google settled copyright lawsuits over its plan to scan millions of books and post them online. The deal between Google and the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers means that Google will pay $125 million dollars to establish an independent, non-profit “Book Rights Registry,” to resolve outstanding claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees from class-action lawsuits against Google.

This is an interesting development and perhaps one more step toward publishing’s digital future. But it may have its draw backs.

Google’s plan could mean the end of orphaned books–those books for whom the holder of copyright is unclear due to death of the author and his heirs, the collapse of publishing houses, etc.–and that such books and stories might once again be available for all to read. This is a particular problem with many of the stories appearing in early sci-fi pulp magazines, and it would wonderful if such stories were available. But does this also mean the end of ‘out of print’ books–rare or hard to find books would be available essentially in perpetuity once they are uploaded. But what does that mean for authors who’d like to get those out of print books back into hard copy books in book stores? Hmm…

And I’m still a little skeptical that there’s a money-making business model for this. People are used to getting, well, EVERYTHING for free on the internet, legally or otherwise. Suddenly they’re going to start paying to read books online? The physical book is a wonderful technology that had basically been perfected over the last 500 years or so and I think those who want books prefer (at least still) the old dead-tree versions to electronic data.

My youngest brother Chuck, easily the most plugged in of the four Kotowych boys and the most voracious reader, too, said that if he could get every book online he’d still just download them and print them out to read later. He hates on screen reading, even though he spends hours each day in front of the computer.

Anyway, I’m just saying that I’mnot holding my breath for thos to be the Next Big Thing in publishing. I’m happy to wait and see, but my money is still on nobody (or at least nobody but Google) making any money off of this venture.

Below is the press release I got from the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers announcing the deal. There’s also a more current post available at Bloomberg.

– S.

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Google settles copyright dispute with authors, publishers

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Google and book publishers and authors on Tuesday announced that the Internet search giant will pay 125 million dollars to settle a copyright lawsuit over its plan to scan millions of books.

The landmark settlement between Google, the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP) was reached after two years of negotiations and is subject to approval by a US District Court in New York.

It calls for Google to pay 125 million dollars to establish an independent, non-profit “Book Rights Registry,” to resolve outstanding claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees from class-action lawsuits against Google.

Alleging copyright violations, authors and book publishers filed a series of lawsuits against Google three years ago after it launched Google Book Search, a plan with several major US universities to scan and copy millions of books from their libraries and make them searchable on the Web.

In a joint statement, Google, the publishers and authors said the settlement agreement “acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works.”

Of the 125 million dollars, 30 million will go to creating the Book Rights Registry, 45 million to paying authors and publishers whose books have already been scanned without permission and the remainder to reimburse legal fees.

The agreement also provides future revenue to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books with the Book Rights Registry.

“Holders worldwide of US copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized,” the statement said.

Roy Blount Jr., president of the Authors Guild, which has some 8,000 members, compared the Book Rights Registry to ASCAP, which represents songwriters and musicians and collects royalties on their behalf.

Authors have the option of not signing up their books with the Registry, which will be controlled by a board of authors and publishers.

“If an author does not want his or her book to be in the program they absolutely can opt out,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild.

The agreement, which only applies to holders of US copyrights, allows users of Google Book Search to preview a limited number of pages of in-copyright books for free if the rightsholder agrees.

Consumers can choose to buy an entire book online at a price to be set by the rightsholder or a Google algorithm designed to “maximize revenues for the book.”

The settlement sets up a system of institutional subscriptions to Google Book Search and provides free access to public libraries.

Advertising will be carried on Web pages displaying the books but not on the books themselves and rightsholders “will receive the majority of the revenue from the advertising on Web pages for specific books.”

The settlement calls for revenue from subscriptions, consumer online purchases, advertising on Web pages and per-page printing to be divided 63-37 between the rightsholder and Google.

The agreement was welcomed by AAP chairman Richard Sarnoff.

“The agreement creates an innovative framework for the use of copyrighted material in a rapidly digitizing world,” he said, calling it “an attractive commercial model that offers both control and choice to the rightsholder.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin also welcomed the settlement.

“While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers,” Brin said. “The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”

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