Google has settled a pair of copyright infringement suits in a deal that paves the way for a new approach to purchasing and reading books online.
The settlement requires Google to pay $125 million to two plaintiffs, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Thereafter, Google is free to digitize books that retain copyright protection but have fallen out of print, a practice it began in 2004. Google has digitized more than 7 million books so far.
Until now, the search giant had made available only snippets of text from these books unless the copyright holder gave Google permission to display more. Going forward, Google will display 20% of the digitized books at no charge, but it will charge a fee to individuals who wish to continue reading.
Google will also offer subscriptions to university libraries and other organizations that can in turn share their digital collections as they see fit. Public libraries will receive free access to Google’s digital library.
Google will pocket 37% of the revenues from this endeavor, and distribute the remainder to a Book Rights Registry which will compensate book authors and publishers. Any ad revenues generated from Google’s book sales business will be shared using the same formula.
The settlement still requires approval by a US District Court. This is expected by spring, 2009.
James Gleick, a board member of the Author’s Guild who had popularized Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect in the late 1980s, saw the settlement as a win for everybody. “This huge body of books that were effectively lost to the marketplace is being rescued,” he told the New York Times.