Internet search giant Google Inc., the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers have settled a class-action lawsuit over Google’s ambitious book-scanning project in a deal that represents a huge win for libraries and their users.

Under the deal, Google will pay $125 million to resolve copyright claims by authors and publishers and to pay legal fees. Authors and publishers will have new opportunities to make money from the sale of out-of-print books online, and public and academic libraries will be able to expand their reach by offering full-text views of books in some cases.

The settlement ends a three-year legal challenge of Google’s plan to make many of the world’s books searchable online. The lawsuit charged that Google’s efforts to scan books without permission from the copyright holders infringed on copyright protections. The settlement is subject to federal court approval.

"We’re trying to create a new structure where there will be more access to out-of-print books, with benefits both to readers and researchers and to the rights holders of those books–authors and publishers," Richard Sarnoff, chairman of the publishers association, said in an interview.

"This is an extraordinary accomplishment," Paul N. Courant, university librarian for the University of Michigan, said in a statement. "It will now be possible, even easy, for anyone to access these great collections from anywhere in the United States."

Under the Google Print Library Project, snippets from millions of out-of-print, but copyright-protected, books have been indexed online by Michigan and other participating libraries. Google has called the project, which also scans the full text of public-domain works, an invaluable chance for books to receive increased exposure.

But in a class-action suit filed in 2005, the Authors Guild alleged that Google was "engaging in massive copyright infringement." A year later, publishers also sued, citing the "continuing, irreparable, and imminent harm publishers are suffering … due to Google’s willful [copyright] infringement to further its own commercial purposes."

The settlement expands the amount of text to be scanned, makes it available for free online at "designated" libraries, makes it available for subscription by colleges and universities, and allows readers to pay for full online access of copyrighted works.

Google’s $125 million contribution includes about $34.5 million for a nonprofit Book Rights Registry that will store copyright information and coordinate payments. Google also will 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 publishing association. Any sales, subscription, and advertisement revenue that occur through the search program will be divided 63 percent and 37 percent, respectively, between the copyright holders and Google.

"This may be the biggest book deal in publishing history," guild executive director Paul Aiken said.

If approved by the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the settlement will end a conflict that had been closely followed by the publishing industry as it examines how copyright law should work on the internet and whether sales are hurt or harmed by access to digital text.

Authors and publishers once strongly resisted free online books, but over the past year, they have softened. During the year, entire works have been made viewable and even downloadable for free, including Charles Bock’s novel Beautiful Children and works by Paulo Coelho and Neil Gaiman.

The court is expected to rule on the agreement by next summer.

Since emerging as the internet’s most influential and profitable company, Google has fended off a variety of claims alleging that some of its success has been on built the legally protected work of others.

News organizations have either filed lawsuits or threatened legal action against Google for including snippets of copyrighted stories on its site. Companies also have sued Google for selling the right to show advertisements tied to a trademarked term entered into its search engine. In 2005, The Associated Press and Google disagreed on intellectual property issues, but were able to reach an amicable business solution in January 2006.

Google still faces an even bigger copyright battle over its popular video-sharing site, YouTube. Viacom Inc. is seeking at least $1 billion in damages in a lawsuit alleging that YouTube has illegally profited by tens of thousands of pirated clips from copyrighted shows such as South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Google, which bought YouTube for $1.76 billion two years ago, has adamantly denied the allegations and blasted Viacom for threatening to stifle free expression on the internet. A trial date in that New York federal court case still hasn’t been scheduled.

Publishers are increasingly counting on the internet to help increase sales, and the Oct. 28 book-scanning settlement comes as the industry wonders, and worries, how badly it will be hurt by the shrinking economy.

Opening up a new market for out-of-print books might help.

"With this agreement, in-copyright, out-of-print books will now be available for readers in the U.S. to search, preview, and buy online–something that was simply unavailable to date," Google said in a blog posting about the settlement. "Most of these books are difficult, if not impossible, to find. They are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they make up the vast majority of books in existence. Today, Google only shows snippets of text from the books where we don’t have copyright holder permission. This agreement enables people to preview up to 20 percent of these books."

The company added: "What makes this settlement so powerful is that in addition to being able to find and preview books more easily, users will also be able to read them. And when people read them, authors and publishers of in-copyright works will be compensated. If a reader in the U.S. finds an in-copyright book through Google Book Search, he or she will be able to pay to see the entire book online. Also, academic, library, corporate, and government organizations will be able to purchase institutional subscriptions to make these books available to their members. For out-of-print books that in most cases do not have a commercial market, this opens a new revenue opportunity that didn’t exist before."

Google said it would continue to scan in-print books through its Library Project and make the full texts searchable, "but we won’t show any portion of the book," it said. "As for books in the public domain, this agreement doesn’t change how we display them: We’ll make out-of-copyright works freely available on Google Book Search for people to read and download."

To make sure the agreement advances libraries’ efforts to preserve, maintain, and provide access to books for students and researchers, Google said it will "give public and university libraries across the U.S. free, full-text viewing of books at a designated computer in each of their facilities. That means local libraries across the U.S. will be able to offer their patrons access to the incredible collections of our library partners–a huge benefit to the public."

Links:

Google Library Project

Authors Guild

Association of American Publishers

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom


Add your opinion to the discussion.