Friday, October 31, 2008

Coming Soon: A Global Google Library...

Allow me to spin you a little yarn.

Google has planned for years to digitally scan millions of books from the nation's libraries, and then make those books searchable to the public. This sounds wonderful, except for one big problem... the authors didn't necessarily want the content of their books available online for free.

So they sued, and the project has been in legal limbo ever since.

Until now. A legal settlement was reached earlier this week whereby Google will pay $125 million to authors and publishers of books that Google has scanned into its BookSearch Program.

The deal also sets up an arrangement where Google can continue to scan out-of-print, copyright-protected books, but publishers "now have the option of activating a 'Buy Now' button for readers to download a copy of the book. Google will take a 37 percent share of the profits, and the remaining 63 percent will go to authors and publishers. In addition, Google plans to charge an administrative fee of 10 to 20 percent from the author-publisher's share". A new non-profit called the Book Rights Registry will manage royalties.

Believe it or not, this blog has previously argued against the Google BookSearch program, calling instead for a more open approach that would not grant one commercial firm a book-monopoly that could be leveraged against the nation's schools and libraries.

That said, surely most authors and publishers must have been thrilled to hear the news of this settlement. Google has suddenly provided many of them with quite a windfall since their out-of-print works were not likely to get back into "print" any other way.

Let this serve as a lesson to the skeptics. New media and old media can, in fact, find common ground that serve everyone's best interest (consumers included), while still attributing copyright ownership to the creators of content.

Once again, the internet need not be something for copyright holders to fear, but rather something they should embrace as a revenue-earning opportunity... if done the right way.


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