Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Google Book Search Agreement - Big Designs, Small Print

The Google agreement reached on October 28th, resolves a United States lawsuit which began three years ago, when the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search. The class action is subject to approval by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

"Together we'll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike," said Sergey Brin, Co-founder & President of Technology at Google.

There is a lot of detail in the extensive agreement documentation, (full details here) so before the rest of the world joins the celebrations, it may pay to read the small print.

With this US agreement Google has arrived loud and happy at the e-books party. By crashing in advance of the invitation, infringing copyright and then asking for forgiveness, (as Microsoft pointed out heatedly in 2007) they have now got a very large foot firmly in the door to establish themselves as the web provider in publishing distribution. The iTunes of print? Some individuals may not be happy that such a power monopoly has all the say in the market. Some musicians, such as Kid Rock still hold out on iTunes, not distributing music through the Apple outlet on principal (and reduced margin), but sell successfully online through other partners. I imagine publishers, authors and agents will have to play the same game to decide what rights to release, whether or not to distribute via Google and on what basis. Google will take a 37% share of each book sale in the US. With the US writers market represented by one Authors' Guild, it may have been easier to have had reasonable and unified representation. Who will Google speak to in the diversity of Europe and Asia and beyond, and how strongly can they negotiate a universally acceptable deal?

It certainly seems to be building the distribution platform for the future. If Google Books will become the iTunes of print, perhaps it is only a matter of time before we see the Google Pod Reader? A seamless user interface between Google Books and a Google Reader would mean consumers may abandon current models such as the Kindle and Sony reader, who don't have a custom interface. Or will a variety of e-readers make sense for different niche markets? Or will Amazon try and outdo Google Books, by adding out of print material to its contemporary product range?

Amazon, most recently purchased Reflexive Entertainment (video gaming). I wonder if the ever increasing diversification is a sign that Amazon is prepared to "give up" the books distribution market, to Google? Yet the Kindle would suggest, not without a fight. At the time of writing, there was no comment from Amazon.

Under the agreement, (full details here) Google will make payments of $125 million. The money will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement agreement resolves Authors Guild v. Google, a class-action suit filed on September 20, 2005 by the Authors Guild and certain authors, and a suit filed on October 19, 2005 by five major publisher-members of the Association of American Publishers: The McGraw-Hill Companies; Pearson Education and Penguin Group (USA); John Wiley & Sons, and Simon & Schuster. These lawsuits challenged Google’s activities to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

It directly affects only Google Book Search in the U.S.; anywhere else, the Book Search experience won't change. For now. Going forward, Google hopes (according to their website) to work with international industry groups and individual rightsholders to expand the benefits of this agreement to users around the world. Google has partnered with over 20,000 publishers and authors to make their books discoverable on Google.

Surely this is what the e-book has been waiting for, to finally become a mainstream consumer product? But the agreement is yet to be approved, and it is geographically limited right now - how that works in the reality of the global Internet without border controls, may be the key to its global success - it's going to happen, get on board, or miss the boat.

Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights will be able register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor," added Brin. "While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips."

It will take some time for this agreement to be approved and finalized by the Court. For now, here's a snippet of the expected changes compared with current US Google Books:

1. The agreement will create an independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry to represent authors, publishers and other rightsholders. In essence, the Registry will help locate rightsholders and ensure that they receive the money their works earn under this agreement.

2. Online purchase/access via Google Books - users will be able to purchase full online access to millions of books. This means you can read an entire book from any Internet-connected computer, simply by logging in to your Book Search account, and it will remain on your electronic bookshelf, so you can come back and access it whenever you want in the future.

3. Offering libraries, universities and other organizations the ability to purchase institutional subscriptions, which will give users access to the complete text of millions of titles while compensating authors and publishers for the service. Students and researchers will have access to an electronic library that combines the collections from many of the top universities across the country. Public and university libraries in the U.S. will also be able to offer terminals where readers can access the full text of millions of out-of-print books for free. (see university partners here.)

4. Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works – Payments will be earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through the not-for-profit Book Rights Registry. There will be royalties paid from sales of online consumer access to the books as well as for printouts at public libraries, and for other uses.

Brin added, "We love books at Google, and our fondest dream is that Book Search will evolve into a service that ensures that books, along with their authors and publishers, will flourish for many years into the future."


Paul said...

This sounds as if we are, once again, on the brink of something that will possibly have far-reaching consequences. Always exciting, sometimes a little worrying.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

It's the dawn of a brave new world. I think it may take some time, legal approvals aside, and especially with diversity beyond the US to reach agreements, but this is the moment when we will be able to look back and tell our grandchildren digital books really started.