Last week, a proposed settlement between Google and the publishing industry that was released could have far ranging implications. Here are some highlights. Note: I am not a lawyer, I could be wrong, and this could be a settlement about Martian real estate.
Overview of settlement
- Settlement is responding to a class action suit that claims Google violated copyrights of authors, publishers and other owners of U.S. copyrights in books and other writings by digitizing (scanning) them, creating an electronic database of books, and displaying short excerpts without the copyright owners’ permission.
- The settlement is on behalf of publishers and authors; those who don’t want to be part of the settlement can opt out
- Google will pay $125 million to authors and publishers
- Part of the $125 million will go towards a new nonprofit called the Book Rights Registry which will collect revenue from Google and distribute it to authors and publishers. If this is reminding you of ASCAP that may not be too far off. The settlement mentions that the BRR might be able to bargain on behalf of authors and publishers with other companies in the future.
What rights Google has acquired
- Google will be able to scan and display books on the following terms:
- Right holders of in-print books must opt-in
- Rights holders of out-of-print book must opt-out
- Google can display any non-content text (e.g. copyrights pages, table of contents, indexes)
- Google will be able to sell electronic copies of complete books to users with some limitation on the users.
- Google can sell subscriptions of the whole database to orginizations
- Libraries and other public institutions will get a limited number of physical terminals that can access the entire catalog
- 65% of revenue generated from selling books, advertising on the pages, and subscriptions will be given to the rights holders
What does it all mean?
It’s really hard to predict what implications a deal like this will have. For users, it seems to be a win. They’ll get access to a large corpus of books that’s easily searchable and available for sale in a digital format. Say you’re a graduate student doing research on an obscure topic. You’re not worried about getting the physical book, but reading the contents. It’ll be easy to search and buy an electronic copy from Google. On the other hand, this deal is with Google right now. Others companies can’t take advantage of these terms, giving Google an immense advantage.
For booksellers, the sky may not be falling, but I think this is of concern. Most people who buy used books want to own a physical copy, so I don’t think this will be an instant death knell to booksellers. There are, however, going to be people who will be satisfied by the electronic copy so this will eat into some sales. I also think Google will be able to get some people who wouldn’t have bought print editions to buy the very convenient electronic edition.