A settlement has been reached that could put an end to two years of class action and other lawsuits against Google for its Google Book Search service.  The summary of the agreement appears in a press release by the American Association of Authors (AAP).

  • More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
  • Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
  • Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
  • Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
  • Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

User access features of the agreement have been described as follows:

  • Preview — Allows users to freely preview a limited number of pages of in-copyright works to help users decide if the book is right for them to buy. Generally, out-of-print books will be available for preview, and in-print books will not unless the rightsholder decides to activate previews through their participation in this settlement or through the Book Search Partner Program.
  • Consumer Purchase — Offers individual users the ability to purchase access to view an entire in-copyright book online.  The rightsholder may set the price or allow the price to be set by a Google algorithm.
  • Institutional Subscription — For academic, corporate, and government organizations.  Gives members of the institution full access to in-copyright, out-of-print books.
  • Free Public Library Access — Authorizes free, full-text, online viewing of in-copyright, out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries at no charge to the library or the reader, with added revenues to the rightsholders through per page printing fees.
  • Future Services — The agreement allows for other services and uses, such as Print-On-Demand, Consumer Subscription and others, to be agreed in the future.

The agreement still requires approval by the court.

For readers and researchers, this deal is substantial.  I believe that making out-of-print books available through this service will rejuvenate the industry and perhaps serve as a barometer for which books could be identifies as candidates for reprinting.  I also like the agreement on free access from libraries (unfortunately, access will be limited to libraries in the United States).

This settlement will likely put more pressure on the music industry to identify creative solutions to its outdated business models.