The big news on the tech/book blogs is the impending approval of the Google settlement. May 5, 2009, is the final date for filing objections to the Google Settlement. Google Print went live in October 5, 2004. At that time, Google had scanned over 100,000 books to be part of its GoogleBookSearch program wherein it indexed content to be used in conjunction with its Google search engine. In December of 2004, Google announced a strategic alliance with “Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oxford as well as The New York Public Library to digitally scan books from their collections so that users worldwide can search them in Google.”
Less than a year later, Author’s Guild filed a class action suit against Google, arguing that the scanning and digitizing of copyrighted content was “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” The result of the class action is to provide a small royalty to each author whose work was scanned in, a payment $34.5 million to create the Book Rights Registery, and a monopoly over orphaned works (works that are either unregistered or whose copyright owners can’t be found).
The settlement essentially gives those involved (Google and the soon to be formed Book Rights Registry) exclusive digital rights from now to forever to all works, copyrighted and uncopyrighted. Right now, as Mike Shatzkin points out, the revenues that are raised by the sale of orphan works will get paid to Book Rights Registry for it gets 63% of the sale. There is no provision as to how the revenue is distributed. Will the BRR keep the revenue? Distribute it to those who are registered with the BRR?
A class action requires some similarity in plaintiffs and, as Dr. Pamela Samuelson notes, Google would have vigorously fought the class certification if not for the settlement:
In the absence of the proposed settlement, Google would almost certainly have vigorously fought against certification of the class in the Authors Guild case. After all, the guild has only a few thousand members and most of them do not write the kinds of scholarly works that are typically found in major university research libraries. Many scholars would want their books to be scanned by the Book Search project so they would be more accessible to potential readers.
Zohar Efroni suggests that we cannot condemn Google yet and that the real monopolists are the Author’s Guild and the AAP. (I actual agree with this sentiment. Author’s Guild’s position in this case is particularly offensive given that AG was part of the Reed-Elsevier, Inc., et al. v. Muchnick, et al. in which the Second Circuit found that it did not have the legal right to approve a settlement involving writers who have not registered a copyright. This case is now set to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. C.E. Petit blogged back in March that the appropriate and ethical thing to do is to await the Supreme Court’s ruling instead of jamming through a settlement which may be invalid under the law once the Supreme Court is done).
Each author will have to decide whether to opt out of the settlement proposal, but it behooves authors to seek out information to determine to what they are agreeing if they choose to be part of the settlement.
Other links of interest from C Yen (thanks!):
- Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819841868261921.html
- James Grimmelmann, New York Law School: http://works.bepress.com/james_grimmelmann/23/(abstract)http://www.library.yale.edu/~llicense/ListArchives/0903/msg00051.html
- The Economist: http://www.economist.com/science/tq/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=13174399
- Grace Westcott: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090220.wbkread21/BNStory/globebooks/home?cid=al_gam_mostemail (also discusses the implications on academic institutions outside the US who may not be able to get an institutional subscription)
- Techdirt: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090204/0248153640.shtml
- Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22281