Google Book Lawsuit Settlement

Q.  Tell me about the Google copyright lawsuit settlement.

A.  Three years ago, the Author’s Guild and other plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Google for its “Book Search,” alleging that Google violates the copyrights of authors and publishers in books by digitizing (scanning) them, creating an electronic database of books, and displaying short excerpts without the copyright owners’ permission.  Google defended its practice by saying it was “fair use” (it’s not).

In October, the class action was settled, although as of the date of this writing, the court has not yet approved the settlement agreement. The terms of the settlement are complex, but here are some key points (terms in quotation marks are defined in the settlement agreement):

1.  Google may continue Book Search, but books commercially available are in a “No Display” category. In addition, any author can opt out totally.   Preview views encompassing as much as 10%–20% of content or 4–5 page displays, would become the default display for books in-copyright but out-of-print.  Publisher or authors would have the option to withdraw books from preview mode.

2.  Google can sell subscriptions to the “Institutional Subscription Database,” and sell individual books, all as further described in the settlement agreement.

3.  Google will pay to a “Registry,” for the benefits of “Rightsholders,” seventy percent (70%) of all revenues earned by Google through advertising, etc., less ten percent (10%), for Google’s operating costs.  The Registry will distribute the revenues to Rightsholders under a “Plan of Allocation.”

4.  Google will pay a minimum of $45M into a “Settlement Fund” to pay “Settlement Class Members” whose Books and Inserts have been digitized prior to the “Opt-Out Deadline.”  The $45M will be distributed from the Settlement Fund in the form of cash payments of at least $60 per “Principal Work,” $15 per “Entire Insert,” and $5 per “Partial Insert” in accordance with the Plan of Allocation.

5.  Google also will pay the expense of setting up the whole system and will pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

6.  The class of plaintiffs includes  all persons (and their heirs, successors and assigns) who, as ofJanuary 5, 2009(the Notice Commencement Date), own a “U.S.copyright interest” in  one or more Books or Inserts that is “implicated by a use” authorized by the Settlement

7.  You own aU.S.copyright interest if you own, or have an exclusive license in, a copyright protected byUnited Statescopyright law.  For example, if you are an author, you own the copyright in your Book (unless you have completely assigned all of your  copyright to your publisher, or unless you wrote the Book as a “work for hire”).

There is much more to the settlement, and every MWA author should make a point of going to the Google settlement site, reviewing the Proposed Notice of Class Action Settlement, and providing your contact information to Google at  For a complete set of the 15 documents—the 141-page settlement agreement and the 15 attachments—go to and download a zipped folder.

 © 2008 Daniel Steven