If you’ve written a book in the last few years or are planning on writing one, it’s a good idea to know a little bit about the Google Book Settlement - what it is and how it will affect your book – regardless if you self published, hired a book publishing services company like Schiel & Denver, or were one of the lucky few authors who manage to convince a traditional advance-paying publisher to pay you to write.
In late 2004, Google.com, the search engine with the motto ‘don’t be evil’, in it’s pursuit of knowledge being free and accessible to everyone, took it upon itself to start scanning books into digital format and putting them online for the public to read and download for free as PDFs. They did this for very old books, whose copyright had already passed into the public-domain as the author had been dead for over 70 years, but they also did this for more recently published books, which were actively under strict contractual agreements between authors and publishers. Google then started going round the world getting universities and other academic institutions to upload their entire libraries into Google’s Book digitalization program.
Back then, no one thought to ask Google if they were violating any copyright laws with their Book Search project. But if people can just read books for free online, they don’t need to buy them anyone – which obviously reduces the amount of royalties due back to authors and their publishers. At a time when traditional publishing is undergoing major structural changes, this issue not surprisingly upset many in the industry who didn’t share Google’s open-source knowledge philosophy and saw the project in fact as one big copyright infringement problem which would reduce their income from royalties and needed to be stopped fast.
Some literary agents even went so far as describing Google’s book copying activities as one of the biggest rights grabs in history. So Google got taken to court in a class action suit filed by a group of authors from the Author Guild and The Association of American Publishers, who demanded millions of dollars in damages and an injunction to stop Google’s practice of copying books under active copyright agreements.
Last year Google agreed to compromise by paying a lesser sum in damages and giving authors and publishers a share of the adsense revenues they collect from allowing advertising in the Google Book Search project’s internet portal. However, very recently, the U.S. Department of Justice got involved, concerned that Google’s settlement might clash with existing U.S. anti-trust regulations, increase the price of books sold in retail stores, and violate established U.S. copyright laws … so the matter is far from over.
Next week on February 18th 2010, Judge Denny Chin (the same judge who sent Bernard Maddoff to jail for 150 years) is going to hold a hearing on the legality of Google’s compromised settlement to decide whether to allow it. However such is the controversy generated by the Google Book Search project, there has already been a flurry of last-minute objections filed, which may potentially change the situation yet again.
So what does it mean for authors? Well, as Schiel & Denver authors retain control over both the primary and subsidiary rights to their book when they sign our non-exclusive publishing agreement, we leave the decision of whether to include an ISBN title in the Google Book Library project up to them. We’ve done something similar with the controversial issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and eBooks, letting our authors choose the status of their own ebook’s DRM protection (i.e. whether it should be read-only, printable or fully editable by readers) in our eBook distribution network of over 25,000 online stores including Amazon and Diesel eBooks.
Most book publishers are private companies so don’t explain their position, even to authors. Whichever country your publisher is based, if you have strong views about this it’s best to read your publishing contract and find out from your book publisher what they intend to do with their ISBN backlist in regards to the Google Book Search Project – or if you’ve already published your book, do a search at Google Books to find out if your book has already been included.
Read Google, Inc’s take on their agreement settlement here. If you’re a Schiel & Denver author and want to know more about participating in Google Book Search, please contact your book production team via the helpdesk.