Google has narrowed the scope of its $US125 million settlement with publishers of out-of-print titles released as free e-books through its ad-funded Book Search service.
The settlement, originally announced in October last year, will now only cover books that are registered with the US copyright office, or originally published in the UK, Canada or Australia.
The revised deal came after pressure from the US Department of Justice. The European Union had also been circling.
In a statement released soon after the revised deal was announced late Saturday New Zealand time, Google said the deal was narrowed to the four countries “which share a common legal heritage and similar book industry practices.”
Martin Taylor, director of Auckland publisher Addenda and founder of the Digital Publishing Forum, had an alternative definition.
“The revised terms are notable for the exclusion of works from many countries that objected to its original settlement proposal,” said Mr Taylor in a blog post over the weekend.
“Interestingly, many of those from countries excluded from the deal might now be asking themselves, ‘Why can’t we be in, too?’ Perhaps this is part of the clever psychology of the deal, creating an apparent ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ so that the excluded parties feel obliged to open negotiations with Google,” added Mr Taylor.
Life beyond Google
For Mr Taylor - who is not keen to see any one player control out-of-print books (or Amazon monopolise - commercial e-books) - the narrowed Google deal should be seen as an opportunity:
"From New Zealand’s point of view, as one of the excluded parties, it opens up real opportunities to take control of the process and to do it in a way that is more respectful of rightholders and copyright protections.
"This should be a spur for the public institutions and the commercial sector to join forces and begin the process of digitising important older, in-copyright works."
The University of Victoria is already driving one such project (read: 1000 New Zealand classics released as e-books).
Millions of books
Google said the revised deal would unlock free access to millions of titles, which it has been scanning since 2004 to place for public access on the (so far relatively thinly populated) Book Search site.
Participating publishers from the four countries will receive 63% of the revenue that Google generates from the ad-funded Book Search download site.
The agreement also states that Google will pay a minimum of $US45 million in cash payments to compensate rights holders whose works Google has scanned without permission before May 5, 2009.
Google has also agreed to put $US34 million toward the creation of a Book Rights Registry, which will help locate rights holders and manage payments for books scanned by the project.
Representatives from US, UK, Canadian and Australian publishers will oversee the Registry under the revised deal.
Open book alliance: 'Sleight of hand'
The revised Google deal also drew fire from the Open Book Alliance, a lobby group bankrolled by Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo.
In a blog post Saturday, co-chair Peter Brantley called the deal "a sleight of hand; fundamentally, this settlement remains a set-piece designed to serve the private commercial interests of Google and its partners."
"By performing surgical nip and tuck, Google, the AAP, and the AG are attempting to distract people from their continued efforts to establish a monopoly over digital content access and distribution; usurp Congress’s role in setting copyright policy; lock writers into their unsought registry, stripping them of their individual contract rights; put library budgets and patron privacy at risk; and establish a dangerous precedent by abusing the class action process.”