Cautious praise for Google's settlement with authors

After more than two years of wrangling, Google may have found a way to make writers happy. The Internet giant has reached an agreement with the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers that is meeting with out-and-out enthusiasm in some quarters and more measured approval in others.

Starting in 2004, Google had been scanning millions of books into digital form and making small bits and pieces of the text available online in response to search queries. It's all part of what Google calls its Book Search project. Authors were receiving no compensation for this activity because, argued Google, that was fair use.

No dice, said the Author's Guild and the APA, both of which sued Google in 2005 for copyright infringement. The practice, they said, was totally unfair to writers who were getting no compensation for the use of their words.

But now a proposed agreement has been worked out. Google will pay $125 million to settle the two copyright lawsuits.

Under the agreement (which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York), Google will be able to show up to 20 percent of the text of the scanned books at no charge to users. For a fee, users will be able to see the whole book. Organizations that subscribe (such as schools or libraries) will be able to make entire collections of those books available to their users.

Of the revenue earned under this plan, 37 percent will go to Google. Publishers and authors will receive the other 63 percent. (A Books Rights Registry will be created to help distribute this revenue.) Also, authors and publishers must give approval for their books to be included in Google's search program.

Some are hailing at as a victory – and fresh opportunity – for authors and publishers.

“I think that it is a stupendous victory for rights holders of the written word, because it has established that we should and must maintain control over the intellectual property that writers create and that we invest in,” said Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, one of the parties to the suit brought on behalf of the Association of American Publishers told The New York Times. She also said, “Not only did we win our point, we also did so while enabling Google to move forward in creating opportunities for authors in the future."

“It really says that individual authors can still survive in the Internet age and are not going to get dropped off the cliff,” said Paul Dickson, author of 50 books and one of the named plaintiffs in the Authors Guild suit also told The New York Times.

Maybe, say others.

However, it isn't likely to be enough to save the book industry, Michael Norris, senior analyst at Simba Information, a market-research firm that studies the media and publishing sectors, told

"I don't think it's going to have a great impact right out of the gate. The place where people buy a lot of their books are still in the physical locations," he said. "If you look at the way trade books actually work, very few of the revenue that publishers get in is through electronic sales. None of this is going to mean a whole lot if publishers don't get more people to talk about books."

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