The basic story of the Google Books settlement (and why you should care) is this:
In 2004 Google announced plans to start scanning and putting online both out-of and in-copyright books from partnered university collections. There were a lot of other scanning efforts, like the OCA, and Project Gutenberg, but they stuck to scanning books in the public domain- works whose copyrights had expired. Google was the first scanner with the voluminous copper and zinc alloy cojones to just scan copyrighted books and post them where anyone could search them. (If not actually download them.)
In 2005, the Author’s Guild and publishing industry started suing the snot out of them. Of course, what gave Google this previously unforeseen courage was a ridiculous stock price (“Well it was this or hire someone to start shoveling money into the bay…”)(not an actual quote) and grinning phalanxes of lawyers.
In 2008, Google settled. But what the settled for was the Las Vegas buffet of publishing rights. To plagiarize Wikipedia, the terms were roughly:
In October 2008, Google signed a settlement with the Author’s Guild for $125 million. A share of the settlement, $34.4 million dollars, will go towards the funding of the [[Book Rights Registry]], a form of [[copyright collective]] that will pay copyright owners a portion of the profits made by Google Books.
Google created a Google Book Settlement web site that went active on February 11, 2009. This site allows authors and other rights holders of out of print (but copyrighted) books to submit a claim by January 5, 2010. In return they will receive $60 per full book, or $5 to $15 for partial works. In return, Google will be able to index the books and display snippets in search results, as well as up to 20% of each book in preview mode. Google will also be able to show ads on these pages and make available for sale digital versions of each book. Authors and copyright holders will receive 63 percent of all advertising and e-commerce revenues associated with their works.
Yes, leaving in the citations amuses me.
2008-present and probably future, intellectual and legal drama galore.
Why? Because as with any blanket copyright deal there are upsides and downsides, but unique to this one is Google. As in: Google brings its own unique character to it, yeah, but also as in, only Google gets to be part of it, which is kind of an odd idea for a collecting society.
The upsides are instantly obvious. For anyone that cares in the slightest about the fate of the 20th century’s orphan works the Google has come in at what might be the last cultural moment with a deus ex machina that happens to scan 1000 pages per hour. It has thus far lifted 7 million mortal titles up to be ever-teaching constellations shining down from the Google server farms. From the perspective of we plebs, that means the chance to search a previously unavailable vastness of human knowledge from that text box, and maybe even buy orphan books. And certainly look at targeted ads crafted from our profiles and the work itself. We are feeling luckier than ever.
But, as they say, nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse. The curses of the settlement are many and subtle. The deal applies only to Google, effectively shutting out other scanning efforts that might be more in the public interest. Google is answerable to their shareholders, not our cultural legacy. They and the associations stand to make a lot of money, but actual authors seem like they might be largely left out in the cold. It requires copyright holder registration, unlikely to reach the people that might be helped by the deal. The deal gets fuzzy on implementation. It’s US centric. It has no provisions for privacy, and nothing to guard against censorship. It’s really obviously anti-competitive. Google gets to determine a work’s ‘optimal price’, whatever that means. It’s Google, so they’re going to gather gobs of data on anyone using it. Unlike ASCAP, with which it is often compared, there’s been no government investigation and review. Libraries may see woefully incomplete access to the digital versions of their own books. It may take the wind out of the sails for real copyright reform that would do more to protect our cultural legacy. Oh, and did I mention enough times that Google, and only Google, gets to play?
Now for the more than you want to know part:
- Google Book Settlement website
- NYRB: Google & the Future of Books Thoughtful, concise, hits most good points.
- NYTimes: Libraries Ask Judge to Monitor Google Books Settlement Tackles the privacy implications.
- Association of Research Libraries’ page on the Google Book Search Library Project
- Google’s announcement of the settlement
- Google Book Settlement – author’s FAQ
- Wired: Who’s Messing With the Google Book Settlement? Hint: They’re in Redmond, Washington
- James Grimmelmann (Who is really The Man on this topic) and Siva Vaidhyanathan discuss the settlement.
- Brewster Kahle in WaPo: A Book Grab by Google
- Slate: Your Search Returned 12 Million Books
- Techcrunch: Google Book Settlement Site Is Up; Paying Authors $60 Per Scanned Book
By the way, if you were looking for some over arching and final conclusion about the settlement from me, tough.