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Thursday, 30 October 2008 05:38

Google settlement could herald an iTunes for books

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Google has settled the ongoing lawsuits brought by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers which claimed copyright violation through the process of scanning and indexing out of print title content. Is this the biggest book deal in US publishing history?

The lawsuits were filed in 2005 after Google started the wholesale scanning and indexing of the content of books from university libraries, without even bothering to get permission from the copyright holders.

The argument being that the books being scanned, indexed and ultimately made searchable through the Google Books search engine, were out of copyright. Those titles which were simply out of print, Google argued, were covered by 'fair use.'

The fair use principle was applied because, Google said, only excerpts of those books were shown during the search process. Oddly enough, copyright holders in the US did not agree.

And so it was that Google found itself on the wrong end of a class action lawsuit by book authors and the Authors Guild. Plus another lawsuit on behalf of the Association of American Publishers, or at least five representative member publishers.

Now some three years later a settlement has been reached which will expand access via Google Book Search to millions of in-copyright books and other printed materials. Although the class action part is still subject to US District Court approval appears to be a done deal.

And what a deal it is. Already being referred to by some in the publishing industry as the biggest book deal in US history it will see Google paying around USD $125 million to be shared by copyright holders. In return Google gets the right to display text from the books in question.

The agreement will also allow Google to sell part content and complete books, and offer institutional subscriptions, with the revenue (including ad-revenues) being divided roughly 70/30 between the copyright owners and Google itself.

Could this become the iTunes of the literary world? Well it is a little apples and oranges to be fair, but the analogy does hold some water. Google Book Search will bring access to millions of in-copyright but out of print books and provide an ability to buy just a chapter instead of the whole text.

“Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor” says Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google.

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