Judge Extends Google Book Settlement Deadline

If, like me, you’ve been frantically devoting hours to reading up on Google Book Settlement in an attempt to make up your mind about what to do in the final days before the May 5 deadline…take a breath.

PW reports that “In a surprise move, New York Judge Denny Chin today granted a four-month extension to a group of authors, led by Gail Knight Steinbeck, delaying the May 5 deadline to opt out or object to the Google Book Search settlement to early September.”

So you’ve got until September to decide.

I’ve pretty much made my decision, and was planning to blog about it this week…but I think I’ll delay until closer to the date. What I will say now is that this is a historic settlement that presents the possibility of sweeping changes in many different areas, and has far-reaching implications for authors and publishers. If you’re tempted to bury your head in the sand and do nothing (and I completely sympathize with that feeling–the volume of information and opinion is overwhelming)…don’t. As I understand it, doing nothing is the worst of all possible worlds, since you will neither be able to direct Google to remove your books from its database nor collect the income generated by Google’s commercialization of the database. Whether you agree with the settlement or not, whether you choose to opt in or out, you MUST do something.

In the meantime, here are some resources that I found helpful in clarifying the settlement and the issues surrounding it.

What the Google Book Settlement Means for Authors and Publishers–An admirably clear and concise (given the complexity of the settlement) summary of the settlement’s key points from Joy R. Butler. I guarantee you’ll find something here you didn’t know.

From the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency, a guide to your options under the settlement and how (and whether) to exercise them.

From the Dear Author blog, a roundup of info on the settlement plus links to more articles.

The Google Book Search Settlement: Ends, Means, and the Future of Books: a thoughtful summary of issues of concern–including the huge control over orphan works Google will gain from the settlement–from James Grimmelmann of the American Constitution Society.

Law professor Pamela Samuelson discusses the orphan works issue, as well as the potential monopoly Google may gain from the settlement, in The Dead Souls of the Google Book Search Settlement.

More on the potential Google monopoly from Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing. The comments are interesting as well.

From literary agent Lynn Chu, an opinion on the possible costs of the Book Rights Registry, which the settlement establishes to administer rights claims and payments (by the way, I do not agree with her advice to do nothing).

From the Books and Corsets blog, a summary of a Columbia Law School-sponsored symposium on the settlement. Worth reading, because it highlights some issues that other sources don’t seem to have picked up on.

Mike Shatzkin has questions about the distribution of revenues generated by the settlement.


  1. Have a “book tv show” to ask about –couldn’t find an email address. Would you please email me at robinbayne at yahoo.com Thanks!

  2. Pete Miller, according to Google’s FAQ, this is the definition of “book” for the purposes of the settlement:

    For purposes of this Settlement, a “Book” is a written or printed work that meets the following three conditions as of January 5, 2009:

    * It was published or distributed to the public or made available for public access under the authorization of the work’s U.S. copyright owner or owners on sheets of paper bound together in hard copy form; and
    * It was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, UNLESS the work is not a “United States work” under the U.S. Copyright Act, in which case such registration is not required; and
    * It is subject to a U.S. copyright interest (either through ownership, joint ownership, or an exclusive license) implicated by a use authorized by the Settlement.
    Although your work is registered, it wasn’t published, distributed, or made available for public access, therefore it’s not a “book” as far as Google is concerned–which would appear to mean you don’t need to worry about scanning.

    Nevertheless, just to be sure, I’d suggest you register at the settlement website (registering doesn’t commit you to any action) and do a search on your name and title.

  3. Anonymous, I agree with you that file sharing is a huge danger about to face the publishing world. Writers and publishers are living in a dream world where ‘it can’t happen here’. Instead of forging partnerships to get a firm foothold in the e-book market, they are shunning it while piracy runs rampant. Yes, the movie industry and music industry have lost a fortune, but publishers and authors don’t see it coming. I visited a filesharing site with tons of books for free download. While we’re all out battling with Google, books are being shared elsewhere for free to anyone who wants them. I can’t see why nobody is reacting to this.

  4. OK, so I am in a slightly different boat and I am wondering if there is any worry over works that are copyrighted and in the Library of Congress but not published?

    Do I need to opt out or am I not involved in this discussion? My concern is that if Google scans unpublished works and then publishes them no other publisher would ever be interested.

    Thank you for this wonderful forum for these discussions.

  5. Remember Napster? The music industry fought it with tooth and nail and all for nothing. Realizing the potential years later, they attempted a partnerhsip, but too late. The music industry tried to postpone the inevitable and failed miserably. This should serve as a precedent for publishing. Maybe making a deal with Google, etc., now can prevent a disaster further down the road.

  6. The publishing industry has got to act quickly to avoid a debacle similar to the music industry. Every month over one billion songs are exchanged on P2P file sharing networks. Of course, it’s easy to ‘rip’ a song off a CD and post it on Ares, etc. But a book is different. In the old days, you had to photocopy it, which was more expensive than buying in most cases. Now someone has to go through the labor of scanning hundreds of pages. But it’s happening. For example, a complete collection of CS Lewis’s Narnia series is available on any file sharing network as a pdf format, downloadable in minutes, and a 4000-page Complete Works of Isaac Asimov too, along with just about any book you care to mention. While we’re all arguing about who can legally post an e-book, the file sharers are just going ahead and doing it anyway. The music industry’s attempts to stop piracy have been a shambles and it’s time for publishers to act sensibly before they go the same way. For singers and bands, they can make money from shows and concerts, but for us writers, our only source of income will be cut off. Why write therefore?

  7. I was wondering when this issue would be risen here, and I’m glad not only to see my expectations fulfilled but new info gathered.

    I finally got the chance to understand a little – mind me, just a little – better all that is involved in the settlement. Thanks so much!

    Please do keep the great work! =)

  8. Anonymous, that’s one of the many issues with the settlement–it covers everything up to January 2009, but there’s no mention of what happens after that date.

    My guess–and this is strictly my personal opinion, based on what I’ve read–is that Google is planning, now the past has been taken care of, simply to continue on in the same manner. It’s assuming that since the precedents have been set for old books, no one is going to challenge the same treatment of new books. Of course, since there are no provisions for new books, there’s also nothing to prevent Google from doing something different with them.

    Also, if you opt out now, will you have to opt out again for any new books you publish?

    There are such huge problems with the settlement, and opposition definitely seems to be building. I have a hard time imagining, ultimately, that it will stand.

  9. I’ve seen a lot of info on what to do with old works but what about new ones? Do publishing contracts need to be changed? Or is this only important for older works?

  10. Ah, Victoria, I should have realised you’d be there before me–as usual!

    I’ve been following this from here in the UK and am very concerned by it, and very confused. It’s not an easy issue to get to grips with: but as you say, doing nothing doesn’t seem to be the way for anyone to proceed.

  11. Good catch on NYT, Ms. Strauss. I was about to post that link before I realized that you’d already noticed it.

    I’m still amazed by Google’s ambitions. With every passing day it seems like they’re assimilating a new avenue of information into their data centers. I hate to sound like a Luddite but it’s got to stop somewhere.

  12. Jane, I got an email from the Authors Guild last night with a link to Judge Chin’s extension order, confirming that the new opt-out date is September 4. The Fairness Hearing will be held October 7.

    Possibly the confusion arose from the fact that Google, the AAP, and Authors Guild filed a request for a two-month delay in response to the group of authors who requested a four-month delay. The authors’ petition was granted, not Google’s.

  13. BA chief executive Tim Godfray has commented at the Bookseller for those in the UK. It seems it affects UK publishers and authors and he is urging them to act. This has been bubbling at the Bookseller for the last week or so and it’s worth seeking out other articles there.

    (Link split over a few lines)


  14. This is interesting: the New York Times reports that the Justice Department has opened an anti-trust inquiry into the settlement.

    The inquiry does not necessarily mean that the department will oppose the settlement, which is subject to a court review. But it suggests that some of the concerns raised by critics, who say the settlement would unfairly give Google an exclusive license to profit from millions of books, have resonated with the Justice Department.

  15. Lili, I totally understand the confusion. I’ve done a lot of reading over the past few days, and I still can’t say I’m unconfused. Once I make a final decision, I’ll blog about it and my reasons. Not that I want to tell others what to do, but it can be helpful, when you’re considering a complicated decision, to read about someone else’s decision process, even if you ultimately wind up making a different decision.

    Anonymous, I will check out the article (here’s a link for convenience). Without having read it yet, I have one thought–ebooks are indeed the fastest growing sector of publishing (I keep track of the statistics) but they’ve got a whole lot of catching up to do. Experts seem to agree that they’re still–even with the growth–only around 1% of the total book market.

  16. Thanks so much, Victoria. I’m phenomenally confused about the whole thing.

    The only thing I know is that I want Google to take my damn books OUT of their database, on the grounds that ‘no part of this publication may be reproduced without permission’ bloody well MEANS ‘no part of this publication may be reproduced without permission’, you scummy little mofos, even if you have more money than I do. About opting in or out of the settlement…I’m back to confused. I really appreciate the info and clarification.

  17. The important part, in case the link doesn’t work. Sorry about all the mess!

    “Tolkien’s addition to the e-club fills a major gap, and, with e-books the fastest (and virtually only) growing sector of publishing, other authors and their estates have softened. Former holdouts Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel have allowed their books to be digitized and John Grisham will reportedly do the same. Grove/Atlantic Inc., which has published William Burroughs, Samuel Beckett and Malcolm X, expects many of its older works to become available.

    “We’re getting less resistance every day,” says Grove associate publisher Eric Price.

    But you could still build a brilliant collection with the books that remain off-line. They include, most notably, the “Harry Potter” series, and countless other favorites: “Catcher in the Rye” and “Catch-22”; “Lolita” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”; “Atlas Shrugged” and “Things Fall Apart”; “The Outsiders” and “Fahrenheit 451.”

  18. Books online have been a controversial issue both on this blog and elsewhere. I’d love to hear your opinions on this article, showing that Tolkien’s estate has finally caved to the e-book format, along with other authors, although others, most notably, JK rowling are holding out. The article claims that e-books are “virtually the only growing sector of publishing” unlike what people have been saying on this message board and elsewhere. A Kindle allows you to store thousands of books in one little box forever and read anywhere, with instant purchase. On the other hand, it costs 400 bucks, far more than most of us spend on books in two years! I’d love to have you clear this matter up.

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