Thursday, June 11, 2009

Google Books - where things stand ...

You will have heard of Google Books and of a settlement in the US which has unsettled a number of parties with an interest in books and in freedom of information.

This post is an attempt to summarise the history and the main points of the settlement, to look at the pros and cons, and to provide at the end a brief guide to searching Google Books.

In brief

Google Book Search aims to scan all books published in the United States and to provide full-text access to books published in the United States which are:

• Out-of-copyright (published pre-1923)
• Out-of-print and in-copyright with authors or publishers who cannot be traced ('orphan' works)
• In-print and in-copyright but with permission given by the copyright holder.

NB: If a book is designated as Commercially available (offered for sale new through one or more customary channels of trade in the United States) then Google will not be authorised to make any Display Uses of the book unless a rightsholder of the book gives express permission to do so.


• Google Print, renamed Google Book Search in November 2005, was launched in October 2004. Its purpose was to digitise books with the publishers' permission.
• In December 2004 the Google Print Library Project was announced. Google, in partnership with five major American Libraries, would digitise library collections, including the entire book collection of the University of Michigan. The full-text of out-of-copyright books would be made available for free. Books under copyright would be searchable, but only the basic information and a few snippets of text would be visible online.
• In Autumn 2005 the Authors Guild and 5 major publishers coordinated by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) filed suit against Google for copyright infringement, claiming that the scanning and indexing undertaken did not, as Google claimed, constitute 'fair use'.
• In October 2008 the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and Google announced a settlement. To date (June 2009) final approval has not been given.
• September 4th 2009 has been named as the date by which authors need to opt out of or object to the settlement
• October 7th 2009 has been set as the date for the fairness hearing.

Google Book Settlement

The Google Book Settlement of October 2008 agrees that Google will:

• establish a Book Rights Registry which would provide 63% of revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitise their books.
• pay copyright holders a flat fee of $60 for the initial scanning of their work. This would include a 'reasonable and practicable' effort to find copyright holders of 'orphan' works and give those copyright holders the option to a) claim the fee and manage how their work would, or would not, be displayed or b) opt out of the settlement.
• have the right to digitise and to make available for a fee what are known as 'orphan' works, books which are in copyright but out of print, and for whom the copyright holder cannot be found. University libraries can purchase the collection of these books for a fee based on number of students enrolled; the collection will be made available for free on a single computer in each public library; and any person may purchase an individual copy of a book from the collection.

Arguments against the Google Book settlement:

• Google will have a monopoly on the digitising of orphan works. The agreement is therefore anti-competitive.
• While Google's intentions at present are honourable, the cost of a subscription could potentially be raised in the future to the extent that libraries would be forced to cut costs elsewhere.
• Because the case was settled, the question of fair use was not resolved, nor was the broader question of privacy.

Arguments in favour of the Google Book settlement:

• Out of print books will once again be available, and authors will get some revenue from books which were no longer in print and no longer commercially available.
• The direct link from each Google Book record to local library catalogues and to booksellers online may result in increased use of libraries and an increase in book purchases.
• A recent agreement means that the libraries who have made their books available to Google will have a say in pricing, thus potentially avoiding unreasonable price rises.
• The initiative may in time remove the problem of orphan works, as copyright holders come forward to claim their books.
• Improved and increased access to an enormous research collection.


At present discussions re Google Book Search centre on the United States. However, the issue is a matter of concern worldwide. On May 28th an Irish Times article reported that the European Union's executive body will be studying Google's plans. Google management said that it would be happy to engage in constructive dialogue on the future of books and copyright.

See here for articles from the New York Times about Google Book Search.

Step-by-Step Guide to using Google Book Search

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