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Google Settles Three Year Legal Battle Over Books

October 29, 2008

Book lovers rejoice! Google Inc has reached a legal settlement with authors and major publishers that paves the way for readers to search through millions of copyrighted books online, browse passages and purchase copies.

Under Tuesday’s settlement, Google will pay $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions or book sales.

Under the agreement the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, librarians and the public will have an easier time tracking down millions of out-of-print books.

At the same time, Google and the book business will have greater opportunities for online sales.

“We’re trying to create a new structure where there will be more access to out-of-print books, with benefits both to readers and researchers and to the rights holders of those books – authors and publishers,” said Richard Sarnoff, chairman of the publishers association.

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment,” Paul N. Courant, university librarian for the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “It will now be possible, even easy, for anyone to access these great collections from anywhere in the United States.”

The lawsuit filed by publishers McGraw-Hill Cos Inc, Pearson Plc’s Pearson Education and Penguin Group (USA) units, CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons Inc charged that Google’s attempts to scan works without permission infringed on copyright protections.

At issue were rights of copyright holders versus the public’s “fair use” interest in being free to use limited portions of books for commentary or review, for what resembles a kind of full-text, searchable card catalog.

The settlement still needs federal court approval.

“It’s been a long and arduous negotiation,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, calling the settlement “the biggest book deal in U.S. publishing history.”

Aiken said the settlement comes with a, “vast repository of books — millions upon millions of out-of-print books and many in-print books — will find a new home and new readers online.”

Google will pay $125 million, including about $34.5 million for a nonprofit Book Rights Registry that will store copyright information and coordinate payments.

Google will also pay for the millions of copyrighted books already scanned – $60 per complete work to the rights holder.

Under the agreement, any sales, subscription and advertisement revenue that occur through the search program will be divided 63 percent and 37 percent, respectively, between the copyright holders and Google.

Libraries across the country will be offered an online portal, allowing their patrons to print pages for a fee. Institutional subscriptions will also be available to college students and faculty.

Google has fought off a variety of claims alleging that some of its success has been on built the legally protected work of others.

Companies have sued Google in the past, for selling the right to show advertisements tied to a trademarked term entered into its search engine.

The Associated Press and Google disagreed in 2005, on intellectual property issues, but were able to reach an amicable business solution in January 2006.

Google is fighting a bigger copyright battle over its popular video-sharing site, YouTube.

Viacom Inc. wants at least $1 billion in damages in a lawsuit alleging that YouTube has illegally profited by tens of thousands of pirated clips from copyrighted shows like “South Park” and “MTV Unplugged.”

Google has denied the allegations and blasted Viacom for threatening to stifle free expression on the Internet.

A trial date in that New York federal court case still hasn’t been scheduled.

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