Authors Guild Settles With Google

The Authors Guild, the AAP, and several large publishers have reached a $125 million settlement with Google regarding library participation in Google’s Book Search project. The settlement will allow Google to continue to expand its ambitious program of digitizing millions of books and making them searchable online, while preserving the rights of copyright holders.

From an email I received today:

The Guild had sued Google in September 2005, after Google struck deals with major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Many of these were older books in the public domain, but millions of others were still under copyright protection. Nick Taylor, then the president of the Guild, saw Google’s scanning as “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google countered that its digitizing of these books represented a “fair use” of the material.

Our proposal to Google back in May 2006 was simple: while we don’t approve of your unauthorized scanning of our books and displaying snippets for profit, if you’re willing to do something far more ambitious and useful, and you’re willing to cut authors in for their fair share, then it would be our pleasure to work with you.

We’re happy to report that our proposal found a receptive audience at Google and at Association of American Publishers and the several publishing houses that had filed a separate lawsuit in October 2005 against Google. Reaching final agreement turned out to be not so simple, but today, after nearly two and a half years of negotiations, we’re joining with Google and the AAP and those publishers to announce the settlement of Authors Guild v. Google.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge before it takes effect, includes money for now and the prospect of money for later. There’ll be at least $45 million for authors and publishers whose in-copyright books and other copyrighted texts have been scanned without permission. If your book was scanned and you own all the rights, you’ll get a small share of this, at least $60, depending on how many rightsholders file claims.

Far more interesting for most of us –- and the ambitious part of our proposal — is the prospect for future revenues. Rightsholders will receive a share of revenues from institutional subscriptions to the collection of books made available through Google Book Search under the settlement, as well as from sales of online consumer access to the books. They will also be paid for printouts at public libraries, as well as for other uses.

Payments will flow through a new entity called the Book Rights Registry, controlled by a board of writers and publishers. The settlement must be approved by the US District Court before it becomes final.

Authors Guild v. Google Settlement Resources Page

Official Press Release


  1. An interesting response to the settlement by Harvard.

    In a letter to Harvard library staff, director Robert C. Darnton said the ramifications of the settlement were too unclear for Harvard to commit to participating in the Google project. “As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher-education community and by patrons of public libraries,” he wrote.

  2. Thanks Victoria. Most of my books say no preview, but some of the ones I have “inserts” in have them. Thanks again for the clarification.

  3. Robin, do the listings for your books in Google Book Search say “no preview available?” If so, they probably have not been scanned. Or do they say “snippet view”? If so, they probably have been scanned. If you click on the listing, the page for the book should show when and where it was digitized. For instance, here’s the page for my YA novel Guardian of the Hills. It shows that the book was provided by the University of Michigan library, and that it was digitized February 15, 2007.

    The settlement applies only to Google’s Library Project, and covers only books provided by libraries. If the book was provided by the publisher (which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), it isn’t part of the settlement. How to tell? If the book was provided by the publisher, the listing may say “limited preview” (as opposed to “snippet view”), and if you click on the listing, publisher info will be down on the right-hand side of the screen. Here’s the page for my adult fantasy novel The Burning Land, which was provided to Google by my publisher, HarperCollins–even though I had not at that time granted it electronic rights. As I said, publisher digitization is a whole other issue.

    All parties to the settlement are supposed to get a notification between January 5 and Febrary 27, 2009. There will also be a listing of digitized books at the official settlement website, where you can look up your books to see if they’re included.

    SFWA has just issued a statement on the settlement that highlights some possible concerns.

  4. I am confused by all this. Google has at least 9 of my books listed, but I don’t see how anyone could read them. I could “add them to my library” or “write a review,” but didn’t see a way to read the text. Does that mean I am not part of the suit?

  5. As I understand it (and I’m still reading various opinions about the settlement, so take this for what it’s worth), there’s concern that even though Google is required to compensate authors whose work it has digitized, it isn’t prevented from digitizing at will. In other words, while one of the copyright concerns that spurred the lawsuit–that copyright holders should be compensated for exploitation of their work–has been addressed, another–that by digitizing without first getting permission, Google is violating copyright law–hasn’t. So basically, Google gets to go on doing what it was doing, and authors get a bit of cash tossed their way.

    According to the New York Times, Google will make 20% of the text of a book available online for free. The full book will be sold as a download, with Google keeping 37% of the revenue, and the remaining 63% going to publishers and authors. Ad revenue will be subject to the same split. All of this will be administered by the new ASCAP-style Book Registry–which some people fear will turn into a bureaucratic nightmare. Time will tell.

    Another issue of concern: the fact that many books in the Google Book Search program were digitized not by Google, but by publishers, which may not have had the contractual right to do so. This settlement doesn’t touch that issue.

    Finally, there’s concern that the settlement is yet another step in consolidating Google’s monopoly-like dominance over the book world. There’s a good quote in the Times article:

    “On the one hand, one admires all of Google’s inventions,” said Rick Prelinger, board president of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that has scanned and made available online one million public domain books. “But when you start to see a single point of access developing for world culture, by default, it is disturbing.”

    Authors can opt out of the settlement, but the time period for doing so is limited. I haven’t read enough yet to be sure about what the advantages or disadvantages of opting out might be.

    There’s always a lot of hysteria and misconception associated with a big, complicated issue like this, so I’d suggest that any punditry on the settlement should be taken with a grain of salt, unless there’s evidence the pundit knows what he or she is talking about (and that includes me). Even if the pundit does know what he or she is talking about, you need to take into account his or her bias–pro- and anti-copyright advocates are bound to have different perspectives, and librarians may view the issues quite differently from authors.

  6. Someone in one of my writers’ groups sent this info via email today:

    In case you had not heard, the Author’s Guild has proposed a
    settlement which will affect your rights under the copyright laws.
    Everyone should go here and read the proposed settlement (which
    requires authors to opt- out to protect their work), the class notice
    (which has deadlines for filing an objection)
    ——————end copy of

    This person seems to think that the settlement would be a bad thing for authors. She says that Opting out of the settlement will protect author rights. Am I misunderstanding something? I thought that the writers’ guild settlement was to benefit the writers involved.

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