Google Library Project Lawsuit Settles
By Tyler Lacey — Edited By Anna Lamut
Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc.
S.D.N.Y., No. 05 CV 8136
On October 28, 2008, the Authors Guild, Association of American Publishers, and Google reached a settlement that, pending approval by the court, will end a lawsuit that began three years ago when the Authors Guild filed a class action against Google on behalf of more than eight thousand authors in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The Authors Guild alleged that Google infringed many authors’ copyrights by scanning and indexing their works as part of Google’s Library Project in order to display parts of these works in search results on Google’s Book Search product.
The settlement provides benefits to all major stakeholders. If approved, it will allow Google to continue to scan copyrighted, out-of-print works and make them easily available to readers, furthering Google’s stated mission to “organize the world’s information.” Google will also be allowed to display advertisements alongside the books when they are displayed to readers, a strategy that is most likely key to Google’s monetization of the Book Search product, although rightsholders will receive the majority of the revenue from the advertising on web pages for specific books.
Google will continue to provide free access to full-text public domain works. Google will also offer for purchase an Institutional Subscription, allowing organizations such as libraries, corporations, schools, and government organizations to obtain online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries. These subscriptions will allow users to search, read online, and print books.
U.S. authors and publishers will also benefit from Google’s payment of more than $125 million, most of which will be used to create the Book Rights Registry, as well as ongoing revenue-sharing provisions administrated through this registry. The independent and not-for-profit registry’s primary purpose will be to identify the copyright holders for works and ensure that they receive proper compensation for Google’s use of their works.
Readers will also benefit from access to the copyrighted works through Book Search, although these benefits will only be fully realized by users accessing the site in the U.S. In addition to the substantial benefits provided by a searchable full-text index of print books, individual readers will be able to preview out-of-print works as well as purchase access to view entire works online from home. Readers will also be able to view in-copyright, out-of-print works for free at designated U.S. public and university libraries.
More information about the settlement agreement is available on the Authors Guild’s Settlement Resources page and on Google’s equivalent page. Although the complexity of the agreement makes it difficult to fully appreciate its long-term effects, early analysis of the agreement are mixed. Ars Technica’s John Timmer believes that “it’s hard to find fault with the spirit of the agreement,” noting that the “big winners” are readers. The Laboratorium’s James Grimmelmann is concerned about the agreement because he says that it gives too much power to Google at the expense of competing search engines. Grimmelmann believes that the agreement should be modified, at a minimum, to allow other search engines to participate under the same terms as Google before being granted approval by the court. David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer, believes the agreement is groundbreaking. The University of California, University of Michigan and Stanford University, all of which were consulted by Google during the lawsuit, praised the agreement in a jointly issued press release.
The settlement agreement is significant not only because it resolves a three-year lawsuit involving Google and more than eight thousand authors and publishers and provides readers with access to millions of books, but also because of the larger implications that the litigation might have had if it had gone to trial. The plaintiffs alleged that Google was violating fair use by copying, indexing, and reproducing books without permission of the copyright holders. Similarly, Google, as well as many other search engines, already copies, indexes, and displays parts of billions of web pages without the explicit permission of their authors. A judgment against Google in this case might have forced search engines to fundamentally change how they index the Internet, although Google has so far been successful in defending its Internet search engine mechanism through defenses such as fair use and implied license in lawsuits such as Field v. Google and Parker v. Google.