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October 28, 2008
An ASCAP for Books
Pending approval by the court, it appears that Google has worked out a deal with US book publishers. Google published an announcement of the deal in its blog and the story has been in most of the major media.
The deal is primarily focused on books that are still under copyright, but no longer in print. Books that are in print are still to be sold as before; books that are out of copyright are still free for anyone to use.
For the big chunk in the middle, John Timmer of ars technica points out that the settlement seems to have something for everyone. Libraries get free access to the entire contents of such books. Big users and private individuals can now pay fees to get online access to individual books.
Google itself becomes a huge book-seller, with the fees from these online accesses, as well as USD 125 million in start-up money, flowing to a new entity, the "Book Rights Registry." This entity would in turn remunerate part of the fees to copyright holders, in much the way that ASCAP handles rights payments for musical works. In effect, copyright holders will make money on books that they aren't publishing, which is strangely like getting paid not to grow crops because many of these publishers deliberately let these books fall out of publication and never bothered to digitize them, even as they sat on the rights.
This also bears on orphaned works since the existence of the Registry and its potential as a cash source should cause people to step forward and reclaim abandoned copyrights. Definitive copyright ownership is a boon to many people; for example, those who want a simple way to find such rights holders and negotiate other forms of reuse.
All parties in the settlement seem to be at pains to emphasize the benefits to individuals - readers - who will be able to build their own libraries of books that otherwise they'd have to spend hours scrounging for on places like Abe Books. In addition, the large-scale digitization of such works might give a boost to print-on-demand enterprises.
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