Copyright - let the authors beware


Following a recent court ruling, Google now has rights to the content of published or out of print works by Irish authors, writes KARLIN LILLINGTON

UNDER A recent court settlement, Google now has rights to the content of published or out of print works by Irish authors. It will be able to display significant parts of any book for free on the web, sell access to that content, or place online advertisements next to book extracts.

At a seminar for authors this week, Samantha Holman, chief executive of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency, expressed concern that many – perhaps most – Irish authors remain unaware of a recent class action settlement in the US that will award sweeping rights to manage and sell digitised versions of every work published or made available in the US.

The settlement allows Google – which has already digitised more than seven million books – the non-exclusive right to digitise every book published before January 5th this year.

Authors who wish to exclude their books from the settlement must inform Google by May 5th.

Authors who decide expressly to opt in need to go online to a special webpage – – and claim all books associated with their name. They will then receive a once-off payment of at least $60 per book from Google.

They will then become part of a scheme whereby Google will share revenue with them when Google sells parts of their books as downloads, or as print-on-demand versions, perhaps from special terminals installed in libraries in the future.

The settlement allows Google to index a work, display up to 20 per cent of it online, as well as bibliographic material and short excerpts, and to allow printing, copy and pasting, and annotations of an entire work, at a fee and subject to varying limitations.

Google will also be allowing free public access to full digitised works at libraries and colleges, on a restricted basis for research.

It has the right to offer print on demand versions of books, PDF downloads, and coursepacks of reading material for universities.

The settlement requires Google to set up a fund of at least $125 million to pay copyright holders (which can include heirs and other rights holders). At least $34.5 million will go towards establishing a Books Right Registry in the US, which will serve as a rights clearing house and manage payments of 63 per cent of revenue earned by Google to authors for use of their works.

Payment will be either by a flat fee or copyright holders can allow a Google algorithm to determine the “optimal price” for their book based on demand.

But opting out of the settlement “does not exclude your books . You will have to go after Google to make sure they are removed”, Holman told an audience of authors in Dublin.

Opting in may allow rights holders to have some say on the limitations placed on how their works might be accessed, she says. Doing nothing automatically binds works to the settlement.

As part of the settlement, Google cannot display the final 5 per cent of any work – “so make sure you don’t give away the end before the last 5 per cent of the book”, Holman quipped.

For works published after January 5th, 2009, and in the future, rights will be negotiated by Google with publishers.

Legal experts familiar with copyright issues say many authors have no idea that an online company they perhaps think of only as a search engine has now acquired partial rights to their books and a major say in how they are distributed in future.

Authors at the seminar, sponsored by the Irish Copyright Association, appeared bewildered by the implications of this court settlement in another country to a company that until now seemed to have had no connection to the publishing industry.

But, as Holman pointed out, Google announced its intention to digitise every book ever published, and to make them available to internet users, as far back as 2004. The announcement stirred controversy and excitement at the time, with some large libraries – notably, at Harvard and Oxford universities – entering into partnerships with the search giant.

To others who questioned how the company could copy and make available copyright content, Google’s response was basically “so sue us”, Holman says. Eventually, the Authors Guild of America and some authors and publisher representatives of the Association of American Publishers did sue the company for copyright infringement and, last year, the parties reached the current settlement. It is expected to be approved at a court hearing in early June.

Although the settlement was for a class action suit in the US, Holman notes that Google was required to notify copyright groups everywhere in the world, and says the settlement notice warned global copyright holders “to assume that you own a US copyright interest in your book”. Holman says authors can probably expect a similar settlement with Google in future in countries and territories outside the US and cautioned authors against assuming the company might find little commercial value in the project.

“Google has been very successful so far , and there’s no reason to think they won’t be very successful at this,” she says.

Holman notes that some Irish writers have even found their doctoral thesis listed on the Google settlement site and so she encourages anyone who has ever written anything to search under their name for any works. The settlement “is not the perfect solution by any means. But it is the solution being proposed,” she told authors. “You have to start reading your contracts carefully.”