In October 2008, Google settled a lawsuit with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its extensive book-scanning project, and a federal judge was expected to approve the settlement this past spring. But concerns arose that the deal would give Google too much power over access to digital texts, forcing the company to rewrite the settlement to appease a growing chorus of critics–and now the revised deal awaits a hearing in February 2010.
At stake is access to the full text of millions of out-of-print books online, a potential goldmine for scholars and other researchers.
Google has scanned the text from millions of out-of-print but copyright-protected books through partnerships with the University of Michigan and other libraries. Google has called its Books project, which also scans public-domain works, an invaluable chance for obscure books to receive increased exposure.
But in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005, the Authors Guild alleged that Google was "engaging in massive copyright infringement." Within weeks, publishers also sued.
Late last year, Google and the publishing industry agreed to settle their battle. The original settlement called for Google to pay $125 million while developing online sales opportunities for scanned books that turn up in Google searches. Google would get 37 percent of future revenue, and publishers and authors would share the rest.
Google also would pay for the millions of copyrighted books already scanned–$60 per complete work to the rights holder–and for the legal fees of the Authors Guild and the publishing association.
In April, however, a group of authors that included John Steinbeck’s son and daughter-in-law, musician Arlo Guthrie, and university professors from around the country persuaded U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to delay approval of the settlement.
"It is clear to us that the settlement, if approved, will shape the future of reading, research, writing, and publication practices for decades to come," Pamela Samuelson, co-director for the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, wrote in a letter to Chin.
The deal also drew scrutiny from library groups and the U.S Justice Department, which filed a brief arguing that the settlement threatened to thwart competition in the emerging digital-book market unless it was revised.
Hoping to keep the deal alive, Google filed a series of new provisions with Chin in November. Among other things, the modified agreement provides more flexibility to offer discounts on electronic books and promises to make it easier for others to resell access to a digital index of books covered in the settlement.
Responding to months of persistent criticism from many European officials, the revised deal also excludes foreign-language texts.
Google’s concessions did not quell European criticism, however. A Paris court ruled Dec. 18 that Google’s expansion into digital books breaks France’s copyright laws, and a judge slapped the internet search leader with a 10,000 euro-a-day fine until it stops showing snippets of copyrighted texts.
College and university library officials, meanwhile, were largely disappointed with Google’s decision to exclude non-English books from its digital library, saying the move would cut Google’s massive online collection in half and could hamper campus research.
"It changes the value" of Google’s book-search service, said Erika Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. Linke added that the concession "makes a big difference" for students researching non-English texts.