Dating back to 2002, Google has undertaken its Google Books project, an effort to digitize a huge number of books and allow them to be searched. Google partnered with many large research libraries around the world to allow the scanning and archiving of the libraries’ collections.
Over time, Google has added more and more books and more and more features to the book search function. Their efforts have been met with both criticism and praise; some hail the effort as a revolutionary step in providing information to millions of people, while others are wary of the risks of entrusting such a valuable resource to a private firm that draws profit from its efforts. Still more, many copyright holders were and remain uncomfortable with Google’s usage of their works.
Google faced two major lawsuits, both filed in 2005. The first, from the Authors Guild, alleged that, “By producing for itself a copy of those works that are not in the public domain...Google is engaging in massive copyright infringement.” The second, from the Association of American Publishers, also alleged that Google failed to protect the rights of copyright holders. They further charged that Google was violating these rights, “in favor of Google’s own economic self-interest,” though they also voiced support for the general goals of the project.
All parties began settlement negotiations in 2006, yielding a proposed agreement in October 2008. The main thrust of the settlement was that Google would pay the authors and publishers $125 million. Google would also be required to sell access to any copyrighted works in its database, with most of the profits from such a sale going to publishers and authors.
In a 2009 amendment process, several changes were made to the settlement. Its scope was narrowed to only include the US, UK, Australia or Canada. The Book Rights Registry was given the responsibility to search for those responsible for unclaimed works and hold revenue for them. The amendments explicitly add that retailers may continue to sell access to out-of-print books archived in Google Books, and it clarifies how Google’s “competitive pricing algorithm” will set book prices through the site.
Criticism of Proposed Settlement
With copyright claims settled thusly, the main criticism remaining of Google Books is that it overtly concentrates power over a massive collection of knowledge in Google’s hands. Some contend that it does not do enough to restrict Google from abusing this power by price gouging consumers or restricting access in unfair ways. Such critics would like to see further amendments added in order to preemptively block these potential abuses.
Many go further, such as the Open Book Alliance , which posted the following as a list of requirements it would see added to the settlement:
- The settlement must not grant Google an exclusive set of rights (de facto or otherwise) or result in any one entity gaining control over access to and distribution of the world’s largest digital database of books.
- Authors and other rights holders must retain meaningful rights and the ability to determine the use of their works that have been scanned by Google.
- The settlement must result in the creation of a true digital library that grants all researchers and users, commercial and non-commercial, full access that guarantees the ability to innovate on the knowledge it contains.
- All class members must be treated equitably.
- The settlement cannot provide for competition by making others engage in future litigation.
- Congress must retain the exclusive authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to set copyright policy.
- All rights holders impacted by the settlement must have a meaningful ability to receive notice, understand its terms and opt-out.
- The parties that negotiated the settlement must live under the terms to which they seek to bind others, rather than their own separately negotiated arrangements.
One author, Ursula K. Le Guin , even saw fit to resign from the Authors Guild over the settlement, writing, "I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the ‘Google settlement.’ You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.”
"About Google Books." Google Books. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://books.google.com/intl/en/googlebooks/history.html>.
"Authors Guild v. Google Complaint." 20 Sept. 2005. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/settlement-resources.attachment/authors-guild-v-google/Authors%20Guild%20v%20Google%2009202005.pdf>.
Clancy, Dan. "Modifications to the Google Books Settlement." Google Public Policy Blog. 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2009/11/modifications-to-google-books.html>.
Condon, Stephanie. "Google Reaches $125 Million Settlement with Authors | Politics and Law - CNET News." Technology News - CNET News. 28 Oct. 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10076948-38.html>.
"Cyberlaw Cases , Archive » The Google Books Settlement." Cyberlaw Cases. 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://cyberlawcases.com/2009/08/31/the-google-books-settlement/>.
Goodman, Amy. "Amy Goodman: Scanning the Horizon of Books and Libraries - Truthdig." Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines. 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. <http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090929_scanning_the_horizon_of_books_and_libraries/?ln>.
Google. The Revised Google Books Settlement Agreement. Web. <https://8564700917349138647-a-pressatgoogle-com-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/pressatgoogle.com/googlebookssettlement/revised-settlement/SettlementModificationsOverview.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7cqT9LtJLy-YI_Eupv2PyaGrLs8T5Xkjr93quby1cMLiTqq5lOfFJhB_KbWRTb4Y5GrXDb941VzCh69SP3aGJ_sROFk6LdUTlPag6OxKbzBsqY24No5iZ7qb_Osp-5hDfqaXc3NcGujRVENReX1Lv_NFHYhBTjqM1a1sJhMQLZDkh-M2OwCyEFQHjXs1-HBr3xUO3tTyYJwAqkIStNUJPKgAxfGmeUfb9GVQPXbfm1L0rljXS7AGczdG_ioFeuuJZo6pdafBBaTTAaocVPv8hgwN79_euA%3D%3D&attredirects=0>.
Grimmelmann, James. "How to Fix the Google Books Search Settlement." Journal of Internet Law 12.10 (2009): 10-20. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. <http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=james_grimmelmann>.
Herwig, Malte. "Google's Total Library: Putting The World's Books On The Web - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International." SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten. 28 Mar. 2007. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,473529,00.html>.
Le Guin, Ursula K. "My Letter of Resignation from the Authors Guild." Letter to the author. 18 Dec. 2009. Web. <http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Note-AGResignation.html>.
"McGraw-Hill v. Google Complaint." 19 Oct. 2005. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/settlement-resources.attachment/authors-guild-v-google/Authors%20Guild%20v%20Google%2009202005.pdf>.
Open Book Alliance. 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://www.openbookalliance.org/2009/11/open-book-alliance-releases-baseline-requirements-for-revised-google-book-settlement-proposal/>.
"Settlement Agreement." Google Books. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <http://books.google.com/googlebooks/agreement/#1>.