Google cuts ebook deal with publishers – but not authors

Google has finally settled a seven-year legal battle with publishers over its digital book project, but authors have refused to back down.

Google cuts ebook deal with publishers - but not authors

In 2004, Google started scanning books to post online, giving searchable access to content that was no longer available, not yet made digital, or not covered by clear copyright.

The plans kicked off a long-running legal battle, with Google sued by the Authors Guild and the five major members of the Association of American Publishers – McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Penguin, John Wiley & Sons, and Simon & Schuster – over copyright infringement.

In 2008, Google agreed a $125 million deal with both groups – though it was shunned by others in the industry – that would see the web giant pay $60 per book to index it and show 20% of the text. Google would also sell digital copies, with rights holders getting two-thirds of sales and ad revenue. However, the deal was rejected by US courts, which said it was against competition laws.

Full terms of the new deal with publishers weren’t disclosed, but it doesn’t require court approval. “The settlement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright-holders,” Google said in a blog post. “US publishers can choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitised by Google for its Library Project. Those deciding not to remove their works will have the option to receive a digital copy for their use.”

The deal will allow affected books in its Library Project to be posted on the Google Play store, where readers can view 20% of the pages and buy their own digital copy. No further details about revenue sharing or other settlement fees were released, nor was any mention made of orphan works – books where the rights holder is unknown or can’t be found.

The settlement means that digital copies of books from AAP members will be available via Google Play. It should also lead to more out-of-print copies being made available, as well as less popular books that publishers haven’t bothered to digitise, as the cost of scanning is essentially being borne by Google. Plus, publishers will be given a digital copy of the book, presumably to sell via their own sites – and via other retailers.

Author complaints

The deal with publishers doesn’t mean Google’s legal challenges are over, however, as the Authors Guild isn’t giving up its class-action complaint.

“The publishers’ private settlement, whatever its terms, does not resolve the authors’ copyright infringement claims against Google,” Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said in a statement. “Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of US authors continues.” A report from the Wall Street Journal said the Authors Guild is looking for a settlement of $750 per book.

James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School, told The New York Times that the suit with authors over copyright infringement was the more important of the two battles. “That’s the lawsuit with high stakes,” Grimmelmann said. “Maybe the fact that the publishers don’t think this is a lawsuit worth pursuing will help Google slightly.”

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