Google to pay US authors

FAMOUS WEB search engine company Google has agreed on a $125m settlement after US publishers and authors threatened lawsuits over its scanning their books and making them available online.

Google has been scanning US university library collections since 2004. Authors and publishers sued Google, alleging that its scanning and online republishing activity infringed their copyright in the books.

Google initially claimed that distributing authors' works thus was "fair use" under US law. The Authors' Guild responded: "The hell you say. Of such disagreements, lawsuits are made... While we don't approve of your unauthorised scanning of our books and displaying snippets for profit, if you're willing to do something far more ambitious and useful, and you're willing to cut authors in for their fair share, then it would be our pleasure to work with you." After over two years' negotiation, the settlement set up a system by which publishers and authors can be paid from institutional subscriptions to the system, individual payments for access to books and book purchases made through it. A Book Rights Registry will ensure that payment is made to the correct rights-holders.

Google will pay $34.5 million to get the Registry up and running, notify rights-holders of the settlement, and process claims. There's $45 million to distribute for uses so far.

"It's hard work writing a book, and even harder work getting paid for it," said Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild. "As a reader and researcher, I'll be delighted to stop by my local library to browse the stacks of some of the world's great libraries. As an author, well, we appreciate payment when people use our work. This deal makes good sense."

The settlement has important implications for Google's work with European libraries to digitise their collections. That is a driving force in the discussion over permission to use "orphaned works" for which no creator can be identified - which until now has left open the question of what Google and the libraries planned to do about distributing works that are not orphaned.

Meanwhile, Google announced in September that it was stepping up efforts to scan back copies of newspapers in the US. The Freelance is inquiring what arrangements have been made to pay for contributions in which journalists keep copyright.

And in Germany in October Google lost two lawsuits over its making and publishing "thumbnails" of photos for its image search service, which makes money from advertising. The Regional Court in Hamburg ruled that thumbails of photos by Michael Bernhard violates his copyrights, and also ruled for Thomas Horn, reported by Bloomberg News as holding copyrights on comics. Here too, payments through collecting societies seem to be the answer.

  • Read more on the Authors' Guild web site via
  • The website has a step-by-step guide to identifying which works have been digitised and on how to make a claim.
  • If you are a member of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), they are looking into the possibility of submitting claims on behalf of their members, and are asking members to contact them so they can gauge how many would be interested in ALCS doing this on their behalf. See the ALCS website for details.
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