Monday, May 11, 2009

Pros and Cons of the Google Settlement

I did a presentation for the DFW Writers Conference at 2:30 PM on May 3 on trends in publishing. Among the handouts I provided was one on the Google settlement, giving the pros and cons. I'm reproducing it here:


  • Google will act as a giant card catalog, putting information at the fingertips of people all over the world. This is no small issue when you consider that it will improve undeveloped nations’ access to books.
  • Readers doing a search will be able to read sample pages of a book online and have a link immediately available for an online purchase of the book in question.
  • Authors whose books are still under copyright, but out-of-print will now have a way to earn royalties, which they previously did not. The Internet offers both unlimited shelf space and unlimited time for the book to stay alive. Books out of copyright and almost forgotten will have an opportunity to be read again by new generations of readers.
  • Public libraries and school libraries will be able to purchase an institutional license to permit them to offer full access to the books scanned. Authors will receive royalties from these license sales.
  • A Books Rights Registry will be created with settlement funds to track down copyright holders.


  • Google required all libraries that joined the Google Book Search project to sign an agreement promising not to make their books available for copying to other search engines. This creates a search engine monopoly that could have serious consequences if Google forgets its motto “to do no evil.”
  • This settlement puts an even larger financial barrier in front of any new search engine coming along to challenge Google. I believe the plaintiffs in this lawsuit did not think this through carefully enough.
  • What’s to stop Google from unfairly pricing its search engine or the institutional licenses?
  • Google ends up with complete control over the “orphan” books for which no rightsholder has been located.
  • Not only does this impact other search engines; it also impacts other booksellers and distributors.
  • Prior to this agreement, Google only offered snippets of works. The agreement permits readers to access up to 20% of any work.

Tomorrow we'll talk more about the settlement. Both the Justice Department and state attorneys general are now looking into it.

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