Google settles suits
October 28, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

"The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and Google today announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement on behalf of a broad class of authors and publishers worldwide that would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search."
posted by Knappster (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
More information:

*"Google, Authors and Publishers Settle Book-Scan Suit" (Wired)
*"Unlocking access to millions of books" (Inside Google Book Blog)
*"New chapter for Google Book Search" (Google Blog)
posted by stbalbach at 12:09 PM on October 28, 2008


I am unbelievably stoked about this, and pissed off at it being limited to the US. I might have to set myself up with a proxy server just to get this.
posted by bonaldi at 12:11 PM on October 28, 2008


Yay!
posted by cjorgensen at 12:14 PM on October 28, 2008


What's this mean for you dear reader?
With this agreement, in-copyright, out-of-print books will now be available for readers in the U.S. to search, preview and buy online -- something that was simply unavailable to date. Most of these books are difficult, if not impossible, to find. They are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they make up the vast majority of books in existence. Today, Google only shows snippets of text from the books where we don't have copyright holder permission. This agreement enables people to preview up to 20% of the book.

What makes this settlement so powerful is that in addition to being able to find and preview books more easily, users will also be able to read them. And when people read them, authors and publishers of in-copyright works will be compensated. If a reader in the U.S. finds an in-copyright book through Google Book Search, he or she will be able to pay to see the entire book online.
Also of note:
As part of the agreement, Google is also funding the establishment of a Book Rights Registry, managed by authors and publishers, that will work to locate and represent copyright holders. We think the Registry will help address the "orphan" works problem for books in the U.S., making it easier for people who want to use older books. Since the Book Rights Registry will also be responsible for distributing the money Google collects to authors and publishers, there will be a strong incentive for rightsholders to come forward and claim their works.
posted by stbalbach at 12:16 PM on October 28, 2008


Well this sounds like good news...

...for me. Google Book Search will actually be useful now.

...for authors. They'll receive compensation for their time and efforts. Niche writers in particular will benefit from the Long Tail phenomenon.

...for public and university libraries. Free access points to the universal library will help them stay relevant.

If Google manages to come up with a fair and convenient pricing system, this will pretty much be a universal win.
posted by Iridic at 12:18 PM on October 28, 2008


Free Access From U.S. Libraries – Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries;

Wow, what a way to ignore the whole idea of the internet making works accessible everywhere.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:23 PM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


(forgot to use the fine preview function)

The goal of libraries is to be useful, not to sustain their own existence by making the internet less useful.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:26 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


This comment is not part of this Metafilter preview.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:28 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


It seems like I can access lots of pieces of book in Gbooks now. Not the whole thing, but, if I want to show someone just the Thesis statement or a really funny article in a book, chances are high it will be available for me to just link to. Is this going to change? Additionally, will the number of books whose copyright they own outright diminish or go away or cease to increase?

This may be good in the long run, but short term it could be a pain in the arse.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2008


A mere 125 mil? Actually seems kind of a small payment. Mayhaps Google promised a cut of the Adsense revenue to the authors of viewed works, or something similar?
posted by FatherDagon at 12:39 PM on October 28, 2008


The goal of libraries is to be useful, not to sustain their own existence by making the internet less useful.

But in this case, both the internet and the libraries are becoming more useful. Works will become "accessible everywhere" for those who can afford to compensate the authors, and those who can't can just go to a library. This is of course an improvement to the status quo rather than a complete remaking of it, but the alternative you seem to favor would shortchange content creators.

Information may want to be free, but authors want to get paid. This move is the best solution to that dilemma I've seen yet.
posted by Iridic at 12:47 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


'Please, sir, I want some more.'

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'
posted by finite at 12:52 PM on October 28, 2008


Works will become "accessible everywhere" for those who can afford to compensate the authors, and those who can't can just go to a library.

If requiring people to be physically in a library to have free access to books is a reasonable requirement, why are people allowed to take books home for free? Shouldn't libraries be charging people a small fee to borrow books?
posted by burnmp3s at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2008


As an individual, I'm pleased, but as an academic located at a SUNY college with a small library (although it's apparently the biggest of all the four-year SUNY college libraries, FWIW), I think that the news about library access to the database is fifty different kinds of wonderful.

Also, anything that reduces the dread tyranny of snippet view--which rarely allows you to view anything remotely useful--is good news.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:06 PM on October 28, 2008


Information wants to be free

I swear to God, if I hear that stupid phrase one more goddam time.....
posted by IndigoJones at 1:12 PM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a way to ignore the whole idea of the internet making works accessible everywhere.

Wow, what a way to ignore economics and incentives. It wouldn't have got off the ground if it had been free access everywhere: this is a good compromise.

This part of their system is basically a massive extension of exactly what university libraries do now anyway: on-campus you get free access to online journals, Athens etc. If you're not a student, you pay.
posted by bonaldi at 1:12 PM on October 28, 2008


It's important to also read the Author's Guild statement on the lawsuit. Explains the other side, what they think they got.

I think it's interesting Google chose to compromise at all: their initial approach to the book market was very aggressive.
posted by Nelson at 1:32 PM on October 28, 2008


My previous comment is, of course, a quote from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which was written in 1838 and thus is now in the public domain.
Sadly, Google Books' version seems to have been published in 2002 and as such only a "Limited Preview" is available.

posted by finite at 1:33 PM on October 28, 2008


That's a great link, Nelson, and spells out exactly why this is so good for just about everybody. I realise it's might be the equivalent of the RIAA approving of iTunes to smash-the-system types, but I'm too busy drooling at the idea of full-text, searchable contents of massive US libraries appearing in my browser.
posted by bonaldi at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2008


(Except, of course, they won't because I'm not in the US. hurrah for copyright!)
posted by bonaldi at 1:45 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


If requiring people to be physically in a library to have free access to books is a reasonable requirement, why are people allowed to take books home for free? Shouldn't libraries be charging people a small fee to borrow books?

You're talking about the temporally limited loan of an item rather than the physically limited use of a service. Two kinds of restrictions for two kinds of otherwise free things.

Sometimes my library holds free presentations on falconry. Should I damn them because they won't send the peregrines directly to my house?
posted by Iridic at 1:47 PM on October 28, 2008


Not evil.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:49 PM on October 28, 2008


Sometimes my library holds free presentations

Wow, thanks for that analogy. The way the internet works really isn't much different !
posted by finite at 1:58 PM on October 28, 2008


Ok, how about make the books available to everyone online for free. But if you don't pay, the books are only displayed in really really tiny fonts, and you probably need a magnifying glass to read it. This will protect authors because people who don't like reading really really small text will pay for the out-of-print book, and people who can't afford to compensate the authors will just have to squint a whole lot.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:14 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sadly, Google Books' version seems to have been published in 2002

Try this (12 books).
posted by stbalbach at 2:32 PM on October 28, 2008


It gets worse: if you read the FAQ closely, the "free" pony doesn't even come with shiny pink ribbons.
posted by designbot at 2:41 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a good start. But if Charlie Stross or John Scalzi or any of our several other published-author members see a dollar of it, I'll be amazed. It looks to me like the AAP took advantage of their legal power, possession of a legally constituted but deeply socially undesirable right, to soak $125 million out of Google in exchange for doing--or actually, not preventing, because there is no action on their part required--what they should have done for free. I expect that control of this money will be distributed among a few dozen people, most of them lawyers.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:01 PM on October 28, 2008


Stross and Scalzi might see a little, but if midlist genre writers like me see a penny, I'll be amazed. Most capitalist schemes to reward authors--like the European library payment system--reward the rich ones.
posted by shetterly at 8:14 PM on October 28, 2008


Note: This is for out of print books only. ie. if you see 1 penny, your seeing 1 penny you never would have had. It's a no lose situation for authors. Google obviously can't sell access to in-print books (although Amazon does it somehow with Kindle).
posted by stbalbach at 9:05 PM on October 28, 2008


Initially I was very excited by this news, but now I'm confused. I see vague statements like "it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books," but I don't understand exactly what you get when you pay for access to one of these books.

Is it simply the right to access the full contents of the book through the Google Book Search site, as you can access previews now? I can see the value for reference works, but who would want to read an entire novel that way?

I tried to read Neil Gaiman's American Gods when his publisher made it available in an embedded-Flash sort of thing on their website. The text was engaging, but the reading experience was awful. I couldn't finish the book. (I liked the part I did read and bought a dead-tree version, so the publishers' insidious plot succeeded, but the web version showed an utter disregard for people who actually associate reading with enjoyment.)

Maybe I'm missing something, but unless they're offering access in a format that can be used on a Sony Reader or a Kindle (and not through the "experimental browser"), the whole thing is a non-starter for me. Digital books and ebook readers go together. Digital books and web browsers, not so much.

(I'm sure someone--probably one of the clever people at the MobileRead forums--will come up with a way to slurp up the contents of these online books and turn them into a nice reader-friendly file. But this will undoubtedly be against the terms of service, and people shouldn't have to go to those lengths to get an ebook that's usable.)
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 10:04 PM on October 28, 2008


if you see 1 penny, your seeing 1 penny you never would have had.

It's possible that making the book available on the net would undercut a subsequent print re-issue. In other words, there might be more demand for a new run of a well-regarded or popular out-of-print book as a result of its being largely unavailable for some time.
posted by zippy at 10:11 PM on October 28, 2008


Zippy, as a general rule, out-of-print books don't have any demand, because people don't know to demand them. They just disappear. One of the smartest aspects of the original copyright period (fourteen years) was that then printers who loved a forgotten book could reprint it without having to pay to do so. That's how Melville and any number of "forgotten" writers were rediscovered and finally recognized.

I'm not saying this to support the Google and Authors Guild solution. Just pointing out that the problem is very complicated, thanks to the fact that no one is willing to put a stake through Mickey Mouse's wizened heart and let copyright expire in a reasonable time period.
posted by shetterly at 11:08 PM on October 28, 2008


Also, it's up to the author if they want it on Google, if they think it will be re-printed than they don't have to allow it on Google. I have not read the rules close enough, it may also be possible to remove a book later on.

[user was fined for this post] - they will probably be in PDF format which is readable by the better digital book readers. Sony Reader and Kindle kinda suck IMO so not sure why they would be hindered by the limits of those particular devices, there are better ones and they are getting better every year.
posted by stbalbach at 6:07 AM on October 29, 2008


they will probably be in PDF format which is readable by the better digital book readers.

Not to derail too much, but I think "better" is pretty subjective here. I suspect you're referring to the bigger e-readers like the iLiad, which are indeed much better at the specific task of displaying a page-based format like PDF. But I don't want to carry one of those around, and I don't know anyone who has one for personal reading. My Sony Reader is the perfect size for reading in a park, on an airplane, or in bed.

More to the point, while sales figures on e-readers are notoriously hard to get, it's clear that readers with the 6-inch e-ink display have outsold all other sizes by a huge margin. Sony's soon-to-be-released PSR700 (and the Kindle 2, according to rumors) will be the same size, so the 6-inch screen isn't going anywhere. This is, of course, partly a price issue, but I don't foresee e-readers the size of the iLiad ever becoming popular for purposes other than business documents and textbooks.

I can live with PDF. Depending on the size of the scanned page, the Sony Reader can actually display PDFs very nicely, and when it doesn't there are good converters available. But for a project this massive, it would be nice to see Google offer a format like .mobi, which is equally suited to small e-readers, large e-readers, and computer screens. (The Kindle and all the iRex readers support .mobi natively, as do less-popular readers like the Gen3; the Sonys require a conversion, but it's not difficult.)

Of course, Google is likely to encumber any format they choose with DRM. For PDFs this automatically rules out nearly all e-readers, though the problem is not insurmountable.
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 8:24 AM on October 29, 2008


I'll never see a dollar of it. Hell, I won't see 50 cents. Thanks to Amazon and some my-niche-specific discounters, I rarely see a penny in royalties, which is why I negotiate for bigger advances instead. Dang.

Although as a READER instead of a writer, I would be crazy excited to have access to the sort of weird, out-of-print, only-one-library-has-it stuff I'd like to read. It'd be even more AWESOME if I could download it onto my Kindle.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:57 AM on October 29, 2008


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