The Google Books Library Project is a hugely ambitious initiative to catalogue the millions of books in the collections of several major libraries and include them into Google Book Search. Similar to a card catalog, each book profile displays basic bibliographic information about the book and often includes a few sentences to display the search term in context. For books with an expired copyright, users are able to view and download the entire book. For all books, there are links to online bookstores where users can buy the book or listings of libraries where it could be borrowed. The ultimate goal of the Google Books Library Project is to increase exposure to all the books in the database and make it easier for people to find relevant books, especially those that may be hard to find because they are out of print.
However, the Google Books Library Project has not been without challenges. About 3 years ago, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild filed a class action suit against Google for willful copyright infringement. The Authors Guild alleged that Google was “engaging in massive copyright infringement” and the Association of American Publishers pointed to the “continuing, irreparable and imminent harm publishers are suffering…due to Google’s willful (copyright) infringement to further its own commercial purposes.”
Google, eager to continue with its project, announced this past Tuesday October 28, 2008, that it finally reached a settlement. To settle the dispute, Google will pay $125 million. In addition, Google will contribute about $34.5 million for the non-profit Book Rights Registry that will store copyright information and coordinate payments. Google will also pay for the millions of copyrighted books already scanned ($60 per complete work to the rights holder) as well as the legal fees incurred by the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers. Furthermore, any sales, subscription and advertisement revenue that are the result of the Google Book Search program will be divided between copyright holders and Google at 63 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The settlement will also allow for numerous changes and improvements. Chief among these will be an increase in the amount of text to be scanned and allowing it to be accessible online for free at designated libraries. Furthermore, the text will be available for subscription at colleges and universities and readers will have the option to pay for full online access of copyrighted works.
The Google Books Library Project can now carry on, pending court approval by the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The court is expected to rule on the agreement by next summer. If approved, the publishing industry, will have to explore and re-examine how copyright law should work on the Internet and whether access to digital text is beneficial or detrimental to sales in general.
Perhaps authors and publishers will view this settlement as a sign that times are changing. This is a sentiment that I am inclined to agree with. There seems to be an increasing amount of people who do online shopping these days for products ranging from electronics, to clothing, to books. In addition to the convenience factor, online shopping is extremely informative. Many online shopping sites like amazon.com allow shoppers to read honest and practical product reviews by past customers. Similarly, having the ability to see sentences that show a search term in context in various books would be an invaluable tool when shopping for books. This may be as good as browsing through books in a bookstore. Now, would I be less inclined to purchase books if I had access to digital text? The answer to this question will be different for everyone, but for me, the answer is no. For novels, I still very much enjoy the experience of sitting on a couch and flipping the pages of a book, and for educational textbooks, I find being able to highlight and make notes in the book itself extremely valuable. In summary, I feel that Google Book Search will become increasingly helpful and informative in the realm of online shopping. At the same time, even with the availability of digital text, I will still remain a very loyal book-buying consumer.