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Google has agreed to pay a total of $125 million to settle a lawsuit brought by authors and publishers due to Google’s efforts to put books online. Google will be able to put millions of volumes online now, most of which are no longer in print. Those behind the class-action lawsuit filed it while Google was still scanning the books, in an attempt to stop the copyrighted material from appearing on the Internet. The Southern District of New York still has to approve the settlement, but if approved, it will put an end to the three-year-long dispute.
Under the settlement, authors and publishers will receive 63% of the revenue generated from advertising and online book sales on the electronic book database. Google will also pay $34.5 million to create the Book Rights Registry, which will distribute the money. The authors and publishers that own the copyrights to the uploaded books will receive $45 million and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, $30 million.
The Author’s Guild, the Association of American Publishers, various libraries, and Google appear to be pleased with the settlement that will allow for greater access to out-of-print books that are still protected by copyright. The settlement also allows for institutional subscriptions to the entire Google catalog and free access to all of these books for many libraries. Additionally, it compensates authors by distributing some of Google’s proceeds to the copyright holders and makes it easier for people to purchase the books online. The deal is also probably in Google’s best interest as the sum is relatively small for the Internet giant, and it is less than the potential copyright liability. It also puts Google in charge of this vast digital book depository.
The total compensation that most individual authors will receive from the settlement is unlikely to be very much. However, the settlement allows for digital access to many books that had fallen into obscurity, having been out-of-print for many years. The general public will have much easier access to these works and authors and publishers may receive compensation for titles that they would not have expected to bring in any further revenue. Finally, the settlement allows libraries with relatively few titles to have access to millions of titles that would have generally only been available at the largest university libraries. Many of the large institutional libraries view their collections as part of the public trust, and encourage any increase in the public’s access to them.
The deal also appears to be in the best interest of the general public, who will have greater access to an extremely wide variety of works. Also, authors of out-of-print titles will probably be happier to have people actually read their books rather than receiving nominal compensation from copyright. It remains to be seen if any parties are harmed by this settlement. Authors whose books are still in print may receive less compensation if their books are freely available on the Internet, but the increased access may actually help book sales. After all, if people are going to read a full book, they may elect to purchase a physical copy rather than being forced to read it digitally.
– Jason Katz
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