Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reached a settlement ending the lawsuit filed by the AAP in 2005 alleging that the Google Books project violated copyright by scanning books without permission. The gist of the agreement, from the New York Times Technology section:
The deal allows publishers to choose whether to allow Google to digitize their out-of-print books that are still under copyright protection. If Google does so, it will also provide them with a digital copy for their own use, perhaps to sell on their Web sites.
For books that it has digitized, Google allows people to read 20 percent of them online and purchase the entire books from the Google Play store, and it shares revenue with the publishers. The two parties did not disclose additional financial terms of the agreement, but the publishers had not asked for monetary damages.
Google has been offering publishers the opportunity to sell digital books for years, and digitizing new books has become routine for publishers. But under the settlement, publishers get the benefit of Google digitizing out-of-print books that they might not otherwise have turned into e-books. Meanwhile, Google can expand the library of e-books it sells to consumers.
It is not at all clear how this settlement (which is not a class action settlement, therefore the terms are private) affects the kinds of issues most of us in library-land care most about. This settlement doesn’t address Google’s claim that creating digital copies of copyrighted works represents Fair Use. There is also no mention of institutional licenses for access to Google Books like the one described in the original proposed settlement with both the Authors Guild and the AAP. Of course, that settlement was rejected by the courts, and this recent settlement does not affect the Authors’ Guild’s ongoing class action suitagainst Google. This settlement is all about selling digital versions of books.
In an ARS Technica article, copyright expert James Grimmelmann suggests that although the settlement may exacerbate tensions between authors and publishers, the bottom line for him is “I can’t imagine there’s anything interesting in there.”
The always smart, and often acerbic, Peter Brantley sums up his thoughts on the settlement:
At the end of the day, the publisher litigation with Google feels like the remnant of a bad dream fading in the early morning hours. We are where we must be, except that a small number of authors and their lawyers are still clearly motivated to obtain their own payout for the purported harm done them by the hasty presumptions of networked culture. Hopefully, the absence of a falling sky will spur the minds of judges, lawyers, and juries that our conceptions of rights have evolved over the last 100 years.
I honestly don’t know where this settlement leaves us in terms of achieving the original high hopes many of us had when the Google Books project started back in 2005. The Fair Use question remains to be addressed, the availability of Orphan Works remains iffy, and the vision of a universal digital library available to all remains unrealized. All that said, the very fact that Google has scanned more than 20 million books has increased discoverability on a scale that was nearly unimaginable just a decade ago, and has provided scholars with text-mining possibilities that will surely continue to increase our understandings of human language, culture and literature.
And let’s not forget that without Google Books, there would not be a HathiTrust.
So, the while the recent settlement reached by Google with the AAP seems to have little direct impact on libraries’ interests and Google Books has not yet turned out to be all that we might have hoped for, I still think the benefits to scholars and to the public at large outweigh the disappointments.
Edited to add links to what others have to say about the impact of the settlement on university libraries: