Google Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers, Google book deal, Google publishing
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Google Settles with Publishers and Authors, But Who Really Benefits?

October 29, 2008 12:26 PM
by Josh Katz
Google’s $125 million settlement with book publishers and authors may change the way people access books. But is it really a win-win for everyone?

Google Settles with Publishers

Google Inc. said it will be able to expand its collection of published books online, thanks to a dispute it settled with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP) on Tuesday. Google, the book publishers, and authors made a joint statement saying that the 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,” reports U.K. paper The Daily Telegraph.

As long as the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approves the resolution with publishers—including Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc. and Penguin Group, and John Wiley & Sons Inc.—Google will dispense payments totaling $125 million for the rights to make certain in- and out-of-copyright books available on the Internet, according to MarketWatch.

The publishing companies first sued Google in 2005, claiming that the Internet giant was breaking copyright law by scanning books and offering them online. Other companies, such as Microsoft, have also made books searchable online—although Microsoft has since halted the practice—but were careful to do so in a way that does not to violate copyright restrictions. Google, however, has defended its book project by arguing that it allows Internet users to view only parts of in-copyright books online, and not the books in their entirety, MarketWatch reports.

As part of the settlement, Google will not show any part of in-copyright books online that are not included under its new “partner program,” according to Google chief legal officer David Drummond.

At the same time, Drummond claims that the settlement will help to boost Google’s scanning of books, and allow it “to begin offering in-copyright, out-of-print books for preview and sale directly online,” MarketWatch writes. Google has already made more than 7 million books available to Internet users, and Drummond said, “We’re just getting started.”

The settlement also tasks Google with creating the Book Rights Registry, an independent nonprofit service meant to “resolve outstanding claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees from class-action lawsuits against Google,” The Daily Telegraph writes.

Of the $125 million, about $45 million will be dedicated to compensating authors whose work was made available on the Internet without their consent. The rest of the money is to go to the creation of the Book Rights Registry and to pay legal fees.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman copyright attorney Cydney A. Tune indicates that the settlement saved Google from losing a case that could have cost the company “$700 to as much as $150,000 per book,” according to Wired.

Opinion & Analysis: Who does the deal benefit?

Chris Snyder of Wired argues that the agreement benefits Google, the publishers, and the authors. Google makes money and removes the potential for expensive lawsuits. The publishers and authors will now get paid. “But, more to the point, a court ruling against Google would have had a chilling effect on a program whose purpose is not to make any money per se but to preserve the knowledge in libraries the world over, and make it more widely available.” In other words, “Regardless of who benefits more as a business, this certainly a big win for readers.”

But Mitch Ratcliffe of ZDNet contends that, “without some radical changes in the publishing industry, the results of the settlement are not going to make it easier to be a writer for a living.” He claims that authors will earn less money because of the settlement than they would have before as most of it will go to the publishers anyway. “It’s just that if we’re going to declare this is progress, its got to be accompanied by a radical change in the economics of publishing, mainly the removal of the intermediary of publishers who really have done little other than put books on paper and, in rare cases, market those books,” according to Ratcliffe.

Now that millions of out-of-print books will be available on the Internet thanks to the settlement, David LaGesse of U.S. News & World Report wonders if electronic book readers like Amazon’s Kindle will be able to provide the same the services. He asserts that if the new Book Rights Registry is to be run by “authors and publishers, then presumably nothing stands in the way of Kindle downloads—and even good old analog reprints.”

Kevin Kelly wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine about the issue back in 2006. He spoke of Google’s epic attempt to create a “universal library” that could offer “every book to every person.” The library would also include movies, TV shows, songs, essays and articles—in other words, it would run the gamut of human achievement. Copyright laws, however, have proved formidable roadblocks to such an effort. Kelly explains the brave new world of online content and how print content has evolved over time, up to the fight between Google and the book publishers. Kelly ends with this argument: “Search opens up creations. It promotes the civic nature of publishing. Having searchable works is good for culture.” Either way, he says, “In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.”

Related Topic: Google battles Viacom over copyright law

Viacom Inc. sued Google for $1 billion last year for allegedly violating copyright laws in regard to visual media. Viacom argued that YouTube, a site owned by Google, was providing Viacom’s media content on the Internet for free.

On July 2, Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Google, which owns YouTube, must “turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users’ names and IP addresses,” according to Wired.

Viacom asked for the data to learn the relative popularity of user-created videos and material that violates copyright laws. The case began in March 2007.

The judge rejected Google’s argument that the handing over the data would compromise user privacy. He cited an unrelated blog post by Google engineer Alma Whitten, asserting that IP addresses alone would not reveal much information about a user.

The judge did reject some of Viacom’s requests, including access to YouTube’s source code, meant for “identifying repeat copyright infringement uploads,” Wired writes.

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