Google Books might be a godsend when it comes to research, but authors whose books were scanned without their permission aren’t pleased. In 2005, the American Publishers Association and the American Authors Guild took Google to court for copyright infringement. Last Thursday, a New York judge delayed a hearing on the settlement at the request of the authors’ and publishers’ groups, who wanted more time to address antitrust and copyright issues.

Under the settlement, Google will pay out $125 million, to be divided among legal fees, payments to rightsholders, and a book registry. The registry would keep track of authors in a class-action settlement and pay them 63 per cent of generated revenues. Rights holders have to opt out if they don’t want their works scanned by Google, whereas common practice until now had copyright-owners opting in if they want to participate. The deadline for filing for a cash payment is Jan. 5, 2010.

As it stands, the settlement covers access to books from around the world published before Jan. 5, 2009. No supplementary materials, such as tables or illustrations, are covered. One point of contention is that Google would keep the revenues from “orphan” books whose copyright owner cannot be identified.

“Sometimes you want to read something from a new author. I like that you get a wide array of information to look at,” said Janice Asiimwe, a second-year student, on the usefulness of Google’s scanned images of texts. Asiimwe was amazed when she found out that Google had not requested permission to digitize books. “That’s wrong! I can’t believe they were that silly. It’s a multimillion- dollar company. How did they think they wouldn’t get caught?”

At a forum last Friday, Sian Meikle from U of T’s digital library services and Tony Horava, from the University of Ottawa, discussed the merits and concerns of the settlement. While a huge corpus will be made available to a vast audience, some at the event expressed concern that Google will become a monopoly in the area of scanned books available online, as the company would get exclusive rights to published works. Under the settlement, Google would have “preferred nation” status, which stops other providers from being offered license terms better than Google’s for 10 years from the release date.

Forum attendees speculated on the future of the settlement, which could be rewritten to address these concerns. The settlement would also allow Google to leave out sections of a publication without giving a reason (and may be pressured by authors to do so), diminishing access to information.

Attendees also speculated on whether Google could raise the fairuse argument, and publish limited information for scholarly use without requiring permission.

Aakanksha Tangri, in her second year at U of T, felt divided about Google Books. “As a student, I think it’s beneficial. But from a writer’s point of view, I think it’s unethical. People slog to write. They should be rewarded.”

Other students were indifferent to the legal issues. “I don’t care as long as I get the information,” said Ian Ngaira, a third-year UOIT student. “If the authors have a problem, they can sort it out with Google. It doesn’t affect me.”

It is unclear how students will be affected by whatever turn the settlement takes. Victoria Owen, head librarian at UTSC, said that she isn’t able to gauge what will happen. “At this point it is about vigilance and libraries, as well as authors, trying to figure out where they stand,” she said.

A status hearing to discuss how to move forward is scheduled for Oct. 7.

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