Google has settled the class action litigation entitled The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc., which alleged that Google Book Search, including the company’s practice of scanning books to distribute them online, violated the copyrights of publishers and authors. Subject to final court approval, the settlement calls for Google to pay $125 million to litigants and clears the way for Google to continue scanning books. It also establishes some novel services and distribution mechanisms for the future.
The plaintiffs suing Google included The Authors Guild (and individual authors) and the Association of American Publishers, which includes The McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson, John Wiley & Sons, and Simon & Schuster. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s plan to scan and distribute part of all of copyrighted books online, without the explicit permission of the authors and publishers, was a violation of US copyright law.
Now that the cases have been tentatively settled, a “Book Rights Registry” is being created “to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees.” That will be funded by Google’s $125 million settlement payment.
Here’s how the press release summarizes the impact of the settlement:
- More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
- Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
- Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
- Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
- Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.
If you want more information, including the full text of the settlement agreements, which spell everything out in glorious detail, you can find them here.
The press releases characterizes the agreement as a “win for everyone.” In this case that’s probably accurate. I may be overreaching in saying this, but this settlement may also represent a framework for online distribution of other digital content from the TV, film and/or music industries.
Here’s more about how the settlement will affect Google Book Search. There’s also more discussion at Techmeme.