Kolowich, S. (2009) Speak now or forever hold your copyrights Inside Higher Education, Sept 4

Like many other authors, I have been grappling with how to respond to the proposed ‘Google settlement’. The Kolowich article provides a good discussion of some of the issues. For an even more comprehensive discussion, go to the Public Index web site: http://thepublicindex.org, created by The Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School. The site states: This is a site for everyone, dedicated to no particular point of view other than the advancement of dialogue and understanding.

How does the settlement work?

In the case of most academic books, publishers own the rights and pay authors a relatively small royalty (usually between 7-15%). It is therefore the publishers who in general are negotiating with Google, although in some cases, when publishers no longer print a book, the rights revert to the author. Following discussions with one of my own publishers (Taylor and Francis), here’s how I think the Google settlement works.

At the moment, a judge in the USA is presiding over an agreed settlement in a class action suit between Google and ‘Rightsholders’. If approved by the court, Google will be able to scan books (or inserts of books) that are copyrighted in the United States, and maintain an electronic database of scanned books. (The ruling will apply even if the book was published in a country outside the USA, but for which US copyright law applies – which it does for most books in the e-learning field).

Google will be able to sell access to any out-of-print books that it has scanned, and, if the rightsholders agree, sell or seek a subscription for, and place advertisements in, any in-print books. Rightsholders can change their individual agreement with Google at any time. Through an independent Book Rights Registry, Google will pay 63% of all revenues to the rightsholders for all books scanned before May 5, 2009. The main focus of the settlement is on out-of-print books, which will indeed provide a useful service for those wishing for quick access to a copy of an out-of-print work.

What is not clear to me is what will happen for in-print books scanned after 5 May 2009. My understanding is that Google still needs to get permission from rightsholders to scan at least the full text. In my case, one of my publishers (Taylor and Francis) has allowed Google to scan up to 20% of ‘Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education’ for ‘marketing purposes’. Google has therefore scanned in most of the first three chapters. Taylor and Francis has not yet entered an agreement with Google to make the whole book available for sale (an ebook vendor agreement). If it does, T&F claims that 100% of revenues will come to T&F, and royalties will be paid to the author ‘as normal.’

Although it is reasonably clear what happens as far as authors and publishers are concerned, it is less clear as to the costs for those wishing to access books through Google – for more discussion on this, see the Kolowich article above, and also the following:

Lee, S. (2009) The Equal Opportunity Library Inside Higher Education, July 30.

Is it a good thing?

The answer to this is will depend on whether you think all academic work should be available for free, or whether you think academic authors should be compensated for writing books. If you believe in the latter, it is on balance a good agreement, with some dangers that still need to be addressed, particularly with regard to the Book Rights Registry, which has the potential to become a cartel for digital publishing.

For an excellent, well-informed discussion of the pros and cons of the Google Settlement, I strongly recommend:

Grimmelmann, J. (2009) How to Fix the Google Book Search Settlement. Journal of Internet Law, Vol. 12, No. 10



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