Google and Publishers Settle Over Digital Books

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SAN FRANCISCO -- After seven years of litigation, Google and book publishers said Thursday that they had reached a settlement to allow Google to digitize books and journals.

It was a small step forward for Google's plan to digitize every book and make them readable and searchable online, known as the Google Library Project, but it did not resolve the much bigger issue standing in Google's way, litigation between Google and authors.

Thursday's agreement, between Google and the Association of American Publishers, had been expected since last year. The publishers involved in the settlement are the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster.

The deal allows publishers to choose whether to allow Google to digitize their out-of-print books that are still under copyright protection. If Google does so, Google will also provide them with a digital copy for their own use.

For books that it has digitized, Google allows people to read 20 percent of them online and purchase the entire books from the Google Play store. The two parties did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement.

But the bigger case, between Google and the Authors Guild, remains tied up in court. An agreement between those two parties would determine whether Google could move forward with its broader, more ambitious digitizing plan.

The settlement between Google and the publishers is a small part in the transition to e-books. Digital books were a new and daunting prospect when the publishers first sued Google seven years ago, but they have now become commonplace.

"They had this lawsuit hanging around for years, and basically the publishers have all moved on. They are selling digitally now," said James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School who has closely followed the case. "That's the future. This just memorializes the transition."

It also codifies agreements that Google and publishers have long had in place.

"It means very little, because Google's been offering publishers the opportunity to sell books or not for years," he said.

The action brought by the Authors Guild, on the other hand, is "the lawsuit with high stakes," he said.

The settlement with the publishers, though, could give Google a small boost in its ongoing litigation with the authors, Mr. Grimmelmann said, "because the publishers are now explicitly not claiming to try to stop Google from scanning. Maybe the fact that the publishers don't think this is a lawsuit worth pursuing will help Google slightly."

The groups representing authors and publishers originally sued Google in 2005, arguing that its digital book-scanning violated their copyrights. After years of litigation, they agreed to a $125 million settlement, but it was rejected last year by a federal judge, Denny Chin, who said it went too far and raised copyright, antitrust and other concerns.

After that, the publishers and authors, who had partnered when negotiating with Google, split. While the authors remain in court, the publishers reached the agreement with Google privately, so it is not subject to court approval.

"We are pleased that this settlement addresses the issues that led to the litigation," said Tom Allen, chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, in a statement. "It shows that digital services can provide innovative means to discover content while still respecting the rights of copyright holders."

David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said, "By putting this litigation with the publishers behind us, we can stay focused on our core mission and work to increase the number of books available to educate, excite and entertain our users via Google Play."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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