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04 Oct 2012
Google's book scanning project has been the subject of two long running lawsuits. One of them, from a group of publishers settled today.
Articles in Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times note that although the terms of the settlement are confidential, it's very unlikely that the publishers got much more than what Google already offered.
The publishers' interest is in maintaining control of their distribution channel. Seven years ago when the suit was filed, nobody had much idea of how the e-book market would develope, and many of the ideas they had at the time were wrong. Now there are several channels of which Amazon's Kindle is by far the biggest, and the settlement, which validates Google's sale through their Play Books store, offers the possibility of decreasing Amazon's dominance in the market which the publishers surely see as a good thing.
Meanwhile, the other suit from the Author's Guild is slogging along, currently in limbo while the Second Circuit decides whether the judge should have certified the case as a class action or not. This case will never settle, because the Guild's interest is to freeze the book business the way it was 30 or 40 years ago, with a small group of New York publishers as the gatekeepers to the country's bookstores, and royalties on every copy reliably flowing through the publishers to the authors. By golly, they want Google to pay those royalties, too.
While it's not surprising that's what the Guild wants, since their members are for the most part authors who have made it through the publishers' gates, they're out of their minds. For one thing, the business has changed and the New York publishers aren't what they once were. For another, the Guild's members are not typical of all authors and many authors, particularly academic ones, would choose broader distribution rather than more royalties. The Guild's suit has other problems, too, notably that Google has a strong legal argument that making an index of books is fair use under the copyright law, just like making an index of web pages.
So it's one down, one to go.
Claimer: I used to belong to the Author's Guild, but I don't any more. Also, I was Google's expert in Field v. Google, which found their web page index to be fair use.
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