Have you ever written a book review?

Friday, September 11, 2009

More on Google Book Settlement

Google Tells Congress They'll Let Anyone Sell Settlement Books

(How nice of them.)

(That light at the end of the digital settlement trial is a train coming, publishers.)

Google svp and chief legal officer announced before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday (in parallel with a posting on the company's public policy blog) "that for the out-of-print books being made available through the Google Books settlement, we will let any book retailer sell access to those books. Google will host the digital books online, and retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore will be able to sell access to users on any Internet-connected device they choose. Retailers can also pursue their own digitization efforts of out-of-print books in parallel. In essence, this extends our initiative announced earlier this summer -- which allows publishers in our Partner Program to market their in-print works through Google Books -- to out-of-print books included in the settlement."

The WSJ and NYT had brief follow-up interviews with Drummond and came away with the vaguest descriptions of the revenue splits on such an arrangement: Retailers could get the "majority" and/or "much" of the proceeds with Google keeping "only a small slice" as the papers describe it. That's about as clear as the revenue splits as expressed so far for the retailers Google wants to enlist in their Edition program for in-print electronic books.

Drummond also indicates to the Times that Google is "thinking about how to make those books available to others in bulk, in case any were interested in selling subscriptions to libraries." He said, "If people really want to get access to orphan books that we have, they can do it." And he tells the WSJ that the new announcement "should put to rest concerns that 'Google and only Google will have the ability to get the full portfolio' of digital works."

Indeed it's a pretty clever way of blunting arguments that the settlement is anti-competitive and provides Google a de facto monopoly on the sale of orphan works, while not actually making Google's major competitors happy. The testimony mentions "retailers such as Amazon [and] Barnes & Noble" but neither of those companies currently partner with Google Book Search on any of their other initiatives.

As Amazon vp for global public policy Paul Misener (who also testified at yesterday's committee hearing) said, "We don't need anyone between us and rights holders."

P.S. If a book is out of print, and an author manages to convince a publisher to reprint it, I am still unclear how Google's scanning and dissemination will impact that event.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


I've not been following the Google case closely, but read your latest post and I'm a little confused. Even though a book may go out of print, the copyright is still valid, right? How can Google produce an ebook w/out the copyright holder's permission?

I've also read that the Author's Guild thinks this is a good thing for authors. Can you elaborate?

Richard Williams

TPS said...


Thanks for the questions. The term of a copyright varies depending upon whether a particular work has been published and the date of its original publication. Generally speaking, protection for “works” created after 1977 (technically January 1, 1978) extends for the life of the author plus seventy years. Anonymous works are treated differently (ninety-five years from its first publication or 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first). For books published prior to 1978, different rules apply, but it lasts a long time for the purposes of this discussion.

So whether a book is in print or not has nothing to do with copyright. Typically, when a book goes out of print the rights revert back to the author or his heirs (or whoever holds the copyright).

When Google decided to muscle in and scan books that were out of copyright, that was fine. When what they copied was out of print but still in copyright—the you-know-what hit the fan. That is the main crux of this entire issue. Everything else, in my opinion, is fluff. Google has been trying to dance along the razor’s edge to mollify rights’ holders, and many organizations and individuals have gone along because they see dollar signs and ways to garner exposure.

As to the Authors’ Guild: I have not researched this organization’s position enough to comment specifically. However, if you compare the American Medical Association’s support of the current heath care proposals floating in Congress, the analogy may be apt. Only about 15% of all doctors belong to the AMA, and a vast majority of those who do belong oppose the plan. But the AMA wants to play with the White House and Congress because it sees power and money in acceptance. Only a fraction of published authors belong to the Guild, and I bet most do not understand the proposed settlement or oppose it.

So the same thing that is driving the AMA is likely driving the Authors’ Guild.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

So has/will this case re-write the copyright laws?

TPS said...

That is a complicated question.

The general answer is no, because only the fools in Washington sitting in Congress can rewrite copyright laws. I think Google tried to get away with "unofficially" rewriting the laws and was caught doing it.

This settlement is voluntary, so by definition if you agree with it, you are contracting for $$ for whatever copyright or other intellectual property rights were in the process of being pilfered from you by the Vunder Boyz from Mountain View.

Rewritten? No. Bent a little? Well, if you are big enough, with enough money and power to corrupt, I think the answer is inescapable.

Picture Richard Williams digitizing books that are still in copyright and posting them digitally and making money on them. What would happen to you? You would be sued out of existence--quickly. There would not have been a chance at discussing a settlement.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Of course. Rule of thumb, follow the money trail.