Google, Publishers Reach Deal On Book Scanning Plan

Oct 4, 2012
Originally published on October 25, 2012 9:19 am

Transcript

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Today, a long legal battle came to an end. On one side, Google; on the other, book publishers. The two have reached an agreement to resolve a lawsuit that's dragged on for seven years. But this does not end Google's legal trouble, as it tries to digitize the world's books. An even more important lawsuit remains unresolved - with thousands of authors of those books that Google has scanned. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Over seven years ago, Google began scanning books at major libraries, but didn't bother to ask permission from publishers and authors. The company wanted to make the books searchable online. It works like this: If you search for information about, say, George Washington's life, among the results, you might see a snippet of text from his biography; and that might tempt you into buying the whole book. But publishers and authors objected. They argued that Google was legally required to get permission - book by book - before it started scanning.

Tom Turvey of Google, who's been negotiating with the publishers, says today's agreement didn't actually settle the issue.

TOM TURVEY: I think it's fair to say that the parties agree to disagree.

SYDELL: What they do agree on, is that they're going to work together to bring more books online.

TURVEY: It's going to be a multistep process - of publishers saying, here are the books that we're aware of, that we own the rights to; and us saying, well, here are the books that we scanned, that we believe - that are yours.

SYDELL: What made this agreement possible, after all these years of fighting, is that the two parties got to know each other. Google has been selling books in its online store.

Tom Allen is president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, which represents all the major publishing houses in the U.S.

TOM ALLEN: In the intervening years, the publishers developed ongoing business relationships with Google that didn't involve the library project, but did involve their own books.

SYDELL: Part of the fight with Google was over whether publishers would get a cut of the ad revenue Google gets, when it runs ads alongside those book snippets that appear after a search. But neither party will say how they resolved that issue. While this will make some new books available for search, Google is still in the midst of a legal battle with the Author's Guild - which represents writers, who also have rights to books. But today's settlement may be a sign of a shift in attitude, says New York Law professor James Grimmelmann.

JAMES GRIMMELMANN: One possibility is that this might signal that Google is more willing to cut a deal.

SYDELL: A spokesperson for the Author's Guild indicated that they, too, saw today's settlement as a hopeful sign. And everyone does seem to agree that the disputes are growing pains, as businesses adapt to the world of digital books.

Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.