Beginning somewhere around 2004, Google scanned something like 15 million books from the libraries of several prestigious institutions such as Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Google, with the assistance of these libraries, scanned books regardless of their copyright status. Not surprisingly, Google was sued for copyright infringement in 2005. In 2008, a settlement agreement was hammered out between the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild that would have apparently benefitted those organizations greatly. Others, however, weren’t terribly pleased. Some of the sticking points were that, for an author to have his or her book removed from Google’s database, the author would have had to explicitly opt out of the settlement. If the author was unaware of the settlement, too bad. If Google didn’t honor an author’s opt out, the author would have had to sue this megabillion dollar corporation. Good luck with that.
Other corporations weren’t happy with it either. Google would have had a monopoly on millions of books and intended to print and sell copies of those scanned books. Lest you think that because Google demonstrates a cavalier attitude about others’ copyrights, they would grant free access to all the books they scanned, think again. You haven’t seen Google’s own algorithms and program code made available have you?
An extremely problematic area is that of so-called “orphan books.” Google and its supporters claim that, out of its beneficence, Google was making long out-of-print books available for everyone. That sounds good on the surface, but what they fail to mention is that Google made no attempt to locate the copyright holders of these orphan books. They also skim over the part of the proposed settlement that would have established Google as the determiner of when a book becomes orphaned. Authors feared that, if a book, especially those from small or self publishers, was between printings or being revised for a new edition, Google would claim it as being orphaned with the burden of proving otherwise placed squarely on the shoulders of the copyright holder.
Earlier this week, Judge Denny Chinn, in the U. S. District Court in Manhattan, issued a ruling rejecting the proposed settlement. What’s next? Criminal charges against Google? Lawsuits from numerous authors and publishers for copyright infringement? We’ll see.