Google Book Search Settlement Update

Though the Google Book Search settlement has been in the news quite a bit, we admit we were glad to get a gloss from the panel of participants in the negotiations at the New York Public Library, “Expanding Access to Books: Implications of the Google Books Settlement Agreement,” on July 28. While the main points of the settlement have been widely covered (and are also available at, here are a few questions we learned the answers to yesterday.

Which books are covered by the settlement?

The settlement only concerns in-copyright, out-of-print books. Google will continue to digitize, index, and preview these books. Institutions can buy full-access subscriptions, and each public and university library in the U.S. will receive one free terminal, from which users will have full access to the entire catalog of books.

How much of these books can a user read?

In the case of out-of-print, in-copyright books whose rights holders have not yet come forward, the default access option for a regular user is as follows. The user can read up to 20% of the portion of the book surrounding the search term and can print 20 pages at a time or copy and paste 4 pages at a time.

Can you download content onto your computer or electronic device?


What happens when a rights holder comes forward?

The settlement creates a nonprofit Book Rights Registry, with Michael Healy as its Executive Director (the search is on for his BISG replacement). The Registry’s purpose is to locate and represent titles’ rights holders (thus helping to solve the problem of orphan works). Once a rights holder claims a book, he or she determines all the options regarding price, display, and purchase of the work.

Who is funding the Book Rights Registry?

Google is making an initial payment of $125 million to fund the registry, resolve existing claims by authors and publishers, and cover legal fees.

Speaking of money, can users buy the books, and what will they cost?

By default, Google determines the price of each book based on features such as genre, publication date, and length. The default prices range between $2 and $29, with most books costing around $6 or $7. Rights holders can set their own prices for their books, or can make them free. Once a user buys a book, Google receives 37% of the proceeds and the rights holder receives 63%. (If an orphan work is purchased, the money goes into escrow for five years to give the rights holder a chance to come forward. After that, any unclaimed funds go to support the Registry or to charitable causes.) In the case of in-print books, the display is turned off by default, though the rights holder can turn on “preview” and “purchase” options.

What about books with illustrations?

Art for which copyright has been established will appear in the books. Otherwise, images will appear as white boxes until they are claimed and approved. This agreement only applies to books published through January 5, 2009, and Richard Sarnoff, Co-Chairman of Bertelsmann Inc. and a member of the AAP Board of Directors, stressed that the settlement is not “the future of publishing.” “What the settlement is really about is horses and barns,” he said. Since Google has already made digital editions of many books available, the key is to “saddle the horse and ride it somewhere.” The idea is to expand access without letting value leak out of the publishing industry.

When Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace asked David Drummond, Google’s SVP Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, what the business plan is, Drummond wouldn’t really answer, but one thing’s for sure: We can expect to see more from Google Books. “We don’t even see this,” Drummond said, “as the way Google will ultimately be involved in publishing.”