Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Small Publisher Tackles the Google Book Settlement

Did someone say "Google Book Settlement"? La-la-la, I can't hear you because I've got my hands over my ears and am humming loudly. This has been our company's official stance on the matter since we got the settlement notice in March. But it has begun to dawn on me, if not on anyone else, that we've got to react.

To get everyone up to speed, for five years, Google has been taking books out of libraries and scanning them into its own database. They've now got more than seven million titles on file. The object, it said, was for people to be able to locate information within these books and then to decide whether they want to buy them. But the publishing industry saw it as a violation of their copyrights and dismissed Google's claim that the scanning was protected under the Fair Use Doctrine. So the industry, represented by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, sued Google. And before it could go to the Supreme Court, which is where it was surely headed, the parties settled. Johnathan Kirsch, a publishing lawyer, has an excellent summary of this whole matter here.

That settlement has not yet been finalized (and the DOJ has started an antitrust investigation); however, publishers and authors are being directed to get online and claim their books from the database. Then they will be eligible for a cash settlement ($60 per book) and can get their cut of Google's future proceeds from making the content available online. Publishers can also decide how much of their books they want available to people who search online--from nothing at all, to snippets, to 20% of the book, to the whole shebang.

But oh, the burden this puts on small publishers who have been in business a long time and have a huge backlist. First and foremost, they've got to wade through all the information of the settlement itself and make decisions along the way, such as whether to opt out or participate in the settlement, which levels of access to allow, and how to inform their authors. (They aren't getting much guidance from the AAP, and there are so many strong and conflicting opinions from the experts.) Then filling out the necessary forms will take untold hours of research and labor, which really can't be spared when everyone is working with a skeleton crew these days.

Some may decide that the settlement money isn't worth the effort that will go into claiming it. However, I believe publishers still need to get out there and claim the copyright to their titles. Otherwise, Google will use the content for its own ends and make money from it, and will not owe the true copyright holders a dime.

And so I begin the process of slogging through 678 of my company's titles that Google has in its database and prioritizing our next steps for each. I'd love to hear other small publishers' experiences and opinions on this whole mess.


Laurence Shatkin said...

Gee, I thought being Copyright Queen of JIST was just fun and games.

Lori Cates Hand said...

In my career I have been crowned queen of many things; this is perhaps one of the worst. :)