Thursday, November 20, 2008

Agreement reached in Google Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

(image from the Guardian.UK)

On October 28, 2008, Google reached an agreement with the authors and publishers who had sued Google in 2005 for copyright infringement.Google got in trouble when the company began scanning books without permission into Google's online library. Thousands of pages of books, some technically still under copyright, were scanned to create a gigantic cyber-library that would rival the Great Library of Alexandria. You can imagine how upset this made authors and publisher.

What is copyright infringement? The Merriam Webster dictionary states:

Main Entry: in·fringe·ment
Pronunciation: \in-ˈfrinj-mənt\
Function: noun
Date: 1628
1 : the act of infringing : violation
2 : an encroachment or trespass on a right or privilege

and copyright is defined as:

Main Entry: copy·right
Pronunciation: \-ˌrīt\
Function: noun
Date: 1735
: the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)

Basically, Google was charged with violating the rights of artists who owned the copyright of the books they were scanning.

Here is an article from Bloomberg about the settlement between Google and the claimants in the case with a good explanation of what the two parties agreed on.
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. will pay $125 million to settle two copyright lawsuits by publishers and authors over its book-scanning project, a ``historic'' deal that the company said will make millions of books searchable and printable online.

The owner of the most popular Internet search engine said the agreement will expand the Google Book program to let online readers search for and buy copyrighted and out-of-print books in whole or page-by-page, and provide U.S. libraries with free access to the database.

``The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips,'' Google co- founder Sergey Brin said today in a statement, calling the accord ``historic.''

Google was sued in 2005 by the Author's Guild, Pearson Plc's Penguin unit, McGraw-Hill Cos., John Wiley & Sons Inc. and CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster subsidiary. They claimed the digitizing process infringed their copyrights on a massive scale. The project, which started in 2004, includes Harvard University, the New York Public Library and about 10,000 publishers.

And here is what the Author's Guild has to say about the issue.
They also have a link to the actual legal documents used in the case:

A couple months after I became Authors Guild president in 2006, we met with Google to propose a settlement to our class-action lawsuit. The Guild had sued Google in September 2005, after Google struck deals with major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Many of these were older books in the public domain, but millions of others were still under copyright protection. Nick Taylor, then the president of the Guild, saw Google’s scanning as “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google countered that its digitizing of these books represented a “fair use” of the material. Our position was: The hell you say. Of such disagreements, lawsuits are made. MORE

One of the more interesting perspectives on the settlement is from Ivan Hoffman, a lawyer specializing in the arts and copyright law:

Assuming that the federal court approves the settlement:

1. It is a settlement between the author-publisher class and Google but the settlement itself leaves many issues potentially unresolved with other parties who may have royalty interests but who are not "authors" including but not limited to some illustrators. In this regard, the following elements are excluded from the settlement coverage:

Photographs, graphic designs, artworks, illustrations (other than illustrations in children’s Books) and other images and works of visual art that are included in Books are not considered Inserts and are not covered by the Settlement, UNLESS the U.S. copyright interest in those works is held by the Rightsholder of the Book. Therefore, to the extent that persons only own copyrights in such materials, they are not members of the Class. The Settlement neither authorizes nor prohibits Google from displaying those materials through the Settlement, and no claims are released concerning any use of those materials.

Personally, I think having books available on the web for anyone to read is a great idea. However, I applaud Google's willingness to work with authors and publishers to ensure the creators of those books retain control over their work and are compensated for its use. The Internet is changing the way books are used in our culture so it would be foolish for writers to try and shut down the public's access to books on line. Instead, we need to work together, artists, publishers and companies such as Google, to embrace this new Internet world and help each other use it for everyones benefit.

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