Victoria Strauss — Google Book Search Settlement Deadline Looming

Google LogoWriters: The deadline for deciding whether to opt out of the Google Book Search Settlement is September 4, 2009. That means you have to decide today.

If you want to opt out, you must do so by September 4, or lose your chance forever. Opting out must be done in writing. You may opt out online, or send a written notice by US mail, postmarked on or before September 4 (instructions and address are here).

If you don’t opt out, you will automatically be included in the Settlement. You’ll then have until January 2010 to log in to the Book Search website, set up an account, and claim your work.

(Note: many of the links below are from the FAQ on the Google Book Search Settlement website.)

The Book Search Settlement covers all works published on or before January 5, 2009 (so if your work was published after that date, or is yet to be published, you aren’t affected), and anyone with a US copyright interest (don’t assume, if you’re not a US writer, that this doesn’t mean you–if your book was published or distributed in the USA, you may be included). “Works” means both books and inserts (shorter pieces included in a longer work).

Google defines a book as “a written or printed work” that meets the following conditions:

– It was published or distributed to the public or made available for public access under the authorization of the work’s U.S. copyright owner or owners on sheets of paper bound together in hard copy form; and
– It was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, UNLESS the work is not a “United States work” under the U.S. Copyright Act, in which case such registration is not required; and
– It is subject to a U.S. copyright interest (either through ownership, joint ownership, or an exclusive license) implicated by a use authorized by the Settlement.

Google defines inserts as:

…forewords, afterwords, prologues, epilogues, poems, quotations, letters; textual excerpts from other Books, periodicals or other works; song lyrics; musical notation; children’s Book illustrations; or tables, charts and graphs that are not pictorial works.

The Settlement also creates the Book Rights Registry, which “represents the interests of Rightsholders in connection with this Settlement with Google as well as potential licensing deals with other entities, subject to Rightsholders’ authorization.”

What happens if you choose to remain in the Settlement? You’ll be able to “claim” your books and inserts, and receive some compensation for the ones that Google has digitized without permission. You’ll also be able to direct Google to remove one or more of your works from the Book Search database, request it not to digitize other works, and control whether and how it displays your digitized works (including whether they’re offered by Google–now and in the future–for sale or download). In exchange, you give up the right to sue Google for copyright infringement–though you do retain the right to object to the terms of the Settlement.

What happens if you opt out? You’ll lose the right to object to the terms of the Settlement, but retain the right to sue Google for copyright infringement. You can also request that Google not display any work of yours that it has digitized, and/or that it not digitize any further work. Google is currently “voluntarily” honoring these requests, though there’s nothing in the Settlement to compel it to do so, or to prevent it from changing its mind.

The Google Book Search Settlement is a sweeping agreement that shifts the ground on copyright, and has far-reaching implications for the future of books. Whether to opt in or out is a complex, difficult decision. Authors should strive to inform themselves as fully as possible (a tour of the links below should help with that), and should not allow themselves to be swayed by the small amount of money they may receive from Google if they remain in the Settlement.

The Authors’ Guild, one of the parties to the Settlement, provides an overview of the Settlement’s possible benefits. However, resistance to the Settlement has been mounting, both in the USA and overseas, and many organizations and individuals have filed objections or issued statements of opposition, including SFWA, the National Writers’ Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Open Book Alliance (a coalition of organizations that includes some of Google’s biggest rivals). And the US Department of Justice is conducting an antitrust investigation.

As of this date, a surprisingly small number of individuals and groups have opted out or filed objections, but likely this will grow in the coming days. The Public Index is keeping track, with links to the documents. They make for instructive reading.

For the record, I oppose the Settlement (SFWA’s opposition statement pretty much sums up my reasons) and don’t want my books to be part of it. But I haven’t yet made up my mind whether to opt in and direct Google to remove my work from its database, or to opt out and risk that Google might decide to renege on its voluntary promise to exclude opt-outers. For me, opting out is morally preferable, but I fear that it is less real-life practical.

Edited to add: I should have noted that the Settlement has not yet been formally approved by the Court. This will happen (or not) as a result of a Fairness Hearing, which will be held October 7, 2009.

Whether the Settlement stands or not, the opt out decision must be made by September 4.