• July 23, 2014

Google, Publishers, and Authors Settle Huge Book-Scanning Lawsuit

Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers announced on Tuesday that they had settled their longstanding legal battle over Google’s mass scanning of books. Under the terms of the deal, Google will pay $125-million to establish a Book Rights Registry, to compensate authors and publishers whose copyrighted books have already been scanned, and to cover legal costs.

The settlement, which still needs court approval to go into effect, would resolve a class-action lawsuit brought in 2005 by the Authors Guild as well as a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of the publishers’ association. Publishers and authors argued that Google’s scanning of books for its Google Book Search program was a flagrant violation of copyright law's provisions governing fair use.

“We had a major disagreement with Google about copyright law,” Paul Aiken, the guild’s executive director, said during a joint teleconference that Google and the publishers held with reporters. “We still do, and probably always will.” But he said that the parties had been “able to set those issues aside” for what “may be the biggest book deal in U.S. publishing history.”

The deal goes far beyond money. Richard Sarnoff, chairman of the publishers’ association, described it to reporters as “breathtaking in scope, groundbreaking for publishers and authors, and trailblazing for intellectual property in general.”

Unlocking Millions of Texts

If approved by a judge, the accord would allow users of Google Book Search in the United States to see the full texts of books they can read only in snippets now. The deal would also have the potential to put millions more out-of-print or hard-to-find titles within the reach of readers and researchers. Institutions would be able to buy subscriptions so that their students and faculty members could have full access to complete texts. All public libraries in the United States would be given free portals for their patrons. (The settlement does not apply to the use of Google Book Search outside the United States.)

Users without library or institutional access would pay a fee to preview the full text of a book. Google and the copyright holders—the publishers and authors—would share the proceeds from subscriptions and individual use. Authors and publishers could opt out of the program.

The deal will “unlock millions of these texts for users,” said David Drummond, chief legal officer of Google, during the teleconference. Google, he said, considered the deal a great leap forward as well. “Search simply isn’t complete without this content,” he said.

Early reaction from academe has been enthusiastic. Stanford University, the University of California, and the University of Michigan issued a joint statement of support for the agreement, praising its “outstanding public benefits.” The libraries of the three universities have been among a number working with the plaintiffs and Google “to shape this agreement for the public good,” said Michael A. Keller, Stanford’s university librarian and publisher of the Stanford University Press.

Paul N. Courant, university librarian at the University of Michigan, said in the statement that “the opportunity to search and preview millions of books online” was especially valuable. “This is a service that libraries, because of copyright restrictions, could not offer on their own and goes well beyond what would have been possible, even if Google had prevailed in defending the lawsuit,” Mr. Courant said.

Google’s library partners also stand to benefit because Google will provide them with digitized copies of scanned materials, which will help in their long-term preservation efforts.

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