5 Ways Google Book Agreement Will Change the Future of Reading

Original author: Annalee Newitz
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If you are not indifferent to the future of books, you need to understand the Google Books Agreement (SGK, Google Book Settlement). This is a complex legal document, therefore, to facilitate its understanding, we talked with some of its creators, critics and supporters.
The Google Books Agreement could easily become the 21st Century copyright innovation in the publishing world. To understand why, you need to go back in time about 12 years ago, when a very important event in the field of copyright occurred.

Mickey Mouse Protection Act

The copyright industry began to boil in 1998 with the advent of the so-called “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”. In official circles, this bill was called the “Copyright Extension Act” and was the result of an intense lobby on the part of the entertainment industry, partly led by Disney. The essence of the law was to extend the term of copyright protection for all objects created after 1923. By the end of the last century, according to the then applicable law, Disney was supposed to lose the rights to many of the results of the work of its founder. Mickey Mouse was supposed to be in the public domain. Therefore, the company, naturally, was interested in preserving its rights for the further economic exploitation of these assets.

The new law was beneficial both to direct authors and legal entities. According to him, the author’s rights to the product were protected for the entire life of the author plus another 70 years; for products for which the rights belonged to legal entities, a period of 120 years was established from the moment of creation. (Before the new law, the terms were 50 and 75 years, respectively).

In addition, the law gave rise to a poorly organized but powerful movement of people who advocated reforming the field of copyright. It included activists, scholars, artists, technicians, and spread from university campuses to the US Supreme Court, in which Lawrence Lessig argued that the new law was contrary to the constitution because it violates the first amendment (however, the Supreme Court did not buy this is). Over the past decade, many of them have moved to work in Silicon Valley, from where digital media so easily copied constantly raise the question of what copyright really means in the information age.

Someone will say that the Google Books Agreement is the result of all this activity. But cultural expansion is one of the main obstacles to copyright reform, and SGK’s roots come from Google’s remarkable Google project, which aims to disseminate knowledge from research libraries around the world.

Many years ago, a search company began to digitize books from the libraries of several universities, taking out literally every book and crawling it. The idea was simple - to give access to hard-to-reach texts to everyone, and not just those who were lucky to live next to a good library. With Google’s help, people would be able to search the full text of the book and see a passage from one or two sentences. So the law on the protection of Mickey Mouse may have limited the growth of the public domain, but Google Books would have significantly expanded it.



Initially, the Google Book Search project was conceived as an online library that searches the full text of books, and is accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, when you digitize an entire library in a row, those books that should not have come to hand. Among the rare and long-unpublished works, Google has digitized including millions of those that were protected by copyright. So after the launch of the project, many publishers and authors filed lawsuits. They were against even some of their books being available online for free, they wanted people to pay for them.

During a lawsuit with the Authors Guild and representatives of the Association of American PublishersGoogle decided to negotiate out of court. The result was the first Google Books Agreement in 2008, from which the Google Books project was born. This project looked at things wider than its predecessor, Google Book Search, and with a few exceptions, he gave the company in absentia the right to digitize any book registered in the United States before 2009, and any book published in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada before 2009 year. Yes, yes, you were not mistaken. In exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars under the Google Agreement, it now has the right to digitize almost any book published in the English-speaking world until 2009. Due to a number of complaints, a new revision of the SGK was adopted in 2009 (it is often called SGK 2.0). And this edition adds interesting oil to the fire. I will continue to talk about her.

It is important to note here that SGK 2.0 has not yet been approved and is currently undergoing an examination by a judge from Manhattan after lengthy hearings in February. In the light of this examination, it may be required to be reviewed, especially given the objections of the Department of Justice in parts.

As Ursula Le Guin critically remarked: “SKG will really turn copyright on its head.” It will change the way you search and read books. And so how.


1. It may become more difficult to get online information about books by your favorite authors.

Authors - from Ursula le Guin to Michael Chabon - spoke out against SGK, criticizing him for literally wresting control of his works from their hands. They and thousands of other authors (the full list can be found here [PDF] ) refused to work on the basis of SGK. They did not want their works to fall into the meta-group of “all works published in the USA”, in which Google wrote them down without asking. In short, they don’t want to be in Google’s digital library. But why?

Le Guin emailed us:
“Google digitizes copyrighted books without getting or even trying to get permission from the owner of the rights. How he managed to convince several huge libraries to allow this, remains to be seen, because libraries have always carefully monitored the observance of rights. If we continue to act in Google, this will end with the fact that the entire list of digitized books, many of which are stolen, is completely controlled, managed, opened and closed to the public by a commercial company interested in maintaining its monopoly. ”

Like many other authors, Le Guin does not see SGK as a killer solution to copyright reform. She wants to decide for herself who will digitize her books and how.

In the short term, the rejection of SGK will not affect most writers much. But in the long run, with the increasing number of people reading books online, it may become more difficult to read le Guin’s books. You can buy them online and see a brief description, but until Le Guin gives any other company permission to do what she forbade Google, no one can virtually run her book through the eyes, like in an ordinary bookstore.

Funny, many of Le Guin’s books are still available in Google Books. If you search, you'll see what Google calls the snippet view of books in search results.
There are reasons for this. Le Guin’s refusal from SGK does not prevent Google from digitizing her books or showing excerpts from them in search results. Refusal gives her only the right to file a lawsuit against Google for violating her rights. (If you haven’t abandoned SGK, you cannot file a lawsuit, since this issue is now subject to an out-of-court decision ( according to US legal practice. - approx. Translator )). It’s funny, but for Le Guin, the only way to stop Google is to agree with SGK and then demand to ban the display of your books.

And now some more piquant details. Let's say le Guin agreed with SGK because she wanted people to be able to get acquainted with her books. But the agreement of the publisher of her books with Google may cross out her wishes. The publisher may require Google to continue to exclude her books from the search and show them only in fragments (for complete information on this subject, refer to Appendix A of the SGC ).

Here the wave of protest by the writers breaks. All publishers in the Association of American Publishers, including publisher Le Guin, agreed with SGK.

About 30 thousand publishers from 100 countries entered into an agreement with Google Books. In general, most print rights are owned by publishers, not writers. This means that it is publishers who can control how books will be accessed through Google Books, whether the authors of the books like it or not.

If writers like Le Guin really want to abandon the SGK, they ultimately must resolve this issue with the publishers, not Google. Given the mood of the authors, you may soon find that your favorite writers will begin to refuse to do business with publishers. Or they will refuse to sign contracts that give the publisher the right to distribute their works online. Which, of course, will further limit your ability to find your favorite books in digital format.

2. You will find that you are reading free books owned by authors who haven’t been around for a long time, and Google is making money on this with you.

It may turn out that the books of your favorite authors will become more difficult to find, but you will get access to books that you did not even know about before.

Of the approximately 12 million books digitized by Google, 2 million are in the public domain. That is, they were published before 1923 and are no longer protected by copyright. But some of the books are much “younger”, they fell out of the spotlight of protection of rights due to gaps in publishing. There are approximately a million of these so-called "orphaned books." This means that they are still protected by copyright, but have not been printed for a long time, and no one knows where their authors are. Many of these books are all sorts of fantastic novels recently published. Now many of them can be read for free, and for a paid subscription they are available for almost everyone.

How is it that you get access to huge volumes of copyrighted books for free? By default, Google uses the so-called "partial view" (partial view), which allows you to either view 20 percent of the volume of the book from different parts for free, or get the full text for a fee, unless the copyright holder has established otherwise. Since no owners of orphaned books can be found, Google applies a default display to them.

Google adopts all these orphans not out of kindness. SGK gives him the right to sell them. As soon as SGK is officially approved, the company will immediately begin selling 5 million copyrighted books.

How is this possible? Google estimates that his library is now approximately5 million copyrighted but no longer published books . A million of them are “truly” orphaned books. The remaining 4 million are books whose authors are still alive, but they simply cannot be found. However, Google did not try to find them, because, frankly, it’s hard to find the authors of 5 million books. So the company relies on the fact that the owners of the rights will be found themselves, declare their rights and tell Google what to do with them.

Imagine that I am the author of a dozen science fiction books about lesbian aliens, published in the 50s and quickly out of print, but digitized by Google last year. Now the entire series "Journey to the tentative cave" is available in partial viewing on Google Books, in addition, Google sells their full texts, and it does not bother me. How can I let Google know that these are not orphaned books, and that I want to set the reading conditions myself?

For starters, I can claim my rights on the Google Books website through this form.. After that, I get the right to $ 60, which Google pays to the authors according to SGK. Further, I have several options: I can allow partial viewing, displaying excerpts (we saw it above with Le Guin’s books as an example), ban display altogether (text search becomes impossible), completely remove the book from Google’s servers, and finally allow Google to sell mine book on specially agreed terms.

Everything sounds great, but there is a problem. Many authors simply do not know that Google has digitized their books, so they simply will not contact the company with a request to delete them. Others may stumble on their books online, but they have not heard anything about SGK, moreover, they will not find a form for claiming their rights. And even if they find, then filling it with them can seem like a very difficult task.

What may seem particularly strange to them is that Google, only once having paid them $ 60, will continue to earn on their books by advertising on their pages. This brings me to the next thought.

3. Google will compete with Apple (Apple), Amazon (Amazon) and with anyone else, in order to become your favorite online bookstore.

Another of the oddities of SGK is the creation of such an industry institution as the Book Rights Registry (let's call it just the Registry), which exists separately from Google. The main task of the Registry is mediation between authors and Google. But, of course, it will turn into an organization that regulates licensing issues, with the help of which authors can distribute the rights to their books to anyone who wants to make electronic copies of them.

Let's say our fictional author of "Travel to the tentative cave" decides to sell his books online. He goes to the Registry and says: “Hey, Google has already made digital copies of my books, and I want to sell them through Google.” Excellent, the registry answers. Because he already has an agreement with Google, according to which he will receive 63% of all income from the Google Books project. At the same time, the Registry itself chooses how it will pay the author of Travel - 63% in one fell swoop (which is unlikely) or in parts. At the same time, it will still hold a fee for its services. But now our author has laid down on the sofa and is waiting for the Registry to send him money.

And now for the fun part. With the help of the same Register, our talent can sell rights to other stores. Suddenly, the alien lesbians are back in fashion, and our writer is floating in the glory. Naturally, Aibuk (iBook) and Amazon will immediately want to sell his forgotten books. And our author says: “Yes, no problem! Contact the Register, he will give you rights. ”Now both stores can get a digital copy and start trading. Our writer again on the couch counts money. (For those who are in the topic of music: yes, this registry will be a kind of analogue of ASCAP and BMI in the music industry).

Our singer of an alien lesbian epic, of course, is in an ideal situation, depending on many factors, not least of which is the approval of SGK 2.0. And we also depend on the honesty of the leadership of this not yet created registry, which will include activists from the Guild of Authors and the Association of American Publishers (those who appealed to the court that gave rise to the SGK).

Before the Google Books store opens, this guide will have to work hard. First of all, they need to allocate $ 45 million, which Google must pay to the authors of books digitized without permission (remember: a found author who has claimed his rights receives $ 60 per book). Then they need to deal with the distribution of the money that Google sends to them, most of which, of course, come from Google AdSense and sales of novels about alien lesbians. Part of the money goes to the authors. But what happens to the income from orphaned books? The registry accumulates them for 5 years, then spends part of them in search of the owner of the rights to pay him. If this could not be done in 10 years, the registry is allowed to transfer this money to non-profit organizations.

In addition to all this, the task of the Registry is to mediate between authors and sellers of books.

But here's another snag associated with how wide the powers of the registry will be in relation to books, the opinions of the authors of which simply cannot be obtained. Law professor Pam Samuelson, tirelessly advocating for copyright reform, is extremely pessimistic about this aspect of the Registry. Here is what she wrote last year :
“Supporters of the most restrictive copyright will almost completely dominate the leadership of the Registry ... For example, the president of the Authors Guild recently complained that the new Kindle can read aloud, and called it“ fraud ”and copyright infringement. Regarding the Association of American Publishers, it advocated a law that prohibits National Institutes of Health from promoting public access policies for research articles on grants from NCDs themselves. Of course, the authors' guild and the AAI call Google a thief for books scanned in libraries.
If they were to find authors for orphaned books, they might have preferred their books to be licensed under Creative Commons.or even become public domain in order to facilitate access for interested researchers. "The registry will initially be oriented against moving in this direction or even against considering such conditions of access to books that most authors would like."

Thought Pam is a wonderful message to copyright reformists who consider SGK a good counterbalance to the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. SGK will improve our access to books, but gradually copyright advocates from the Registry can turn Google Books into a garden of paradise behind barbed wire.

In addition, looking at the problem from the perspective of online book sellers hoping to compete with Google is a disaster. Do you remember? Google now has the right to digitize any book published in the United States until 2009. No one else has that right. In order to sell electronic books (e-books), Amazon and the like will have to obtain permission for each book either from the Register or directly from the holder of the rights. As Samuelson explains, if a company wants to compete with Google, it must immediately, without any permission, start digitizing the books and go on trial in order to reach an agreement on the same sweet terms as Google.

4. The difference between a library and a bookstore will disappear.

Ultimately, what Google did was transform libraries into stores. By digitizing the books of several libraries, the company literally turned them into a source of income. She wants to sell these books, and if she does not succeed, then make money on advertising built into their display. At the same time, she creates a huge free archive of rare and copyright-free books. And access to it gets anyone who has access to the Internet.

Therefore, SGK should be considered as a document regulating the activities of not only libraries, but also digital bookstores. But the library is a huge repository of texts that tells us the history of our culture. We demand from libraries what we do not require from stores. We want the library to be as complete as possible, we want it to be in the public domain. And, perhaps most importantly, we want her not to succumb to fashion and political regimes.

If you look at Google Books from this point of view, SGK reveals two problems: the privacy of the reader and protection from censorship (for example, from removing politically unpopular books from collections).

Currently, the government is protecting libraries from unauthorized law enforcement access to data on who reads what and what. ButSGK does not contain such guarantees . In fact, Google will store much more detailed information about the behavior of its reader than any librarian could imagine for itself, down to individual parts of the book.

There are other disturbing nuances in SGK. SGK admits censorship and alteration of texts of books stored in the bowels of Google.

Fred Von Lohmann, a full-time attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writes :
“An even more important problem is the possibility of selective editing of book texts. In section 3.10 (c) (i)The agreement prohibits Google from “excepting the cases expressly indicated by the Registered Rights Holder” to modify the text of scanned books when displayed to users. This, of course, is good, because we do not want Google to arbitrarily modify books. But Google has the right to do so if it receives permission from the copyright holder. Why on earth? And if the owner gives such permission, can Google refuse to make changes? Will the information about such a change be made publicly available to the reader? The answer is unclear. But it is quite clear that the best rule would be to prohibit any editing in the texts of scanned books. After all, no library allows the copyright holder to make edits to books from their collections. Violation of this rule opens up prospects for rewriting history, as described in Orwell's novel 1984.

The proposed agreement is also troubling in determining Google’s degree of freedom in its decision about which books will be available to the public. For example, section 3.7 (e)clearly declares that Google may, at its discretion, exclude any scanned book from open access "for editorial or non-editorial reasons." ... It should be noted that governments will undoubtedly take advantage of this opportunity, the right to which is given to the rights holder and Google to remove uncomfortable books from the shelves of Google Books. It is very easy to imagine how foreign governments will put pressure on their citizens to “remove” their books from open access. It is also likely that foreign governments will put pressure on Google to exclude certain books. If SGK is approved in its current form, neither Google nor the owner of the rights will be able to say that they do not have the right to do so. ”

If we consider Google Books as a bookstore, then the idea of ​​the possibility of changing or deleting the texts of books is not so scary. But when you have millions of books in your library, the authors of many of which are dead or no one knows where, the situation is censored. Conditions can be created that allow governments to legally rewrite history.

One way to solve the problem is to divide the collection of books into two parts, regulated in different ways: a library (public domain and orphan books) and a store (all other books, the owners of which are known and allowed to sell them through Google).

5. Fantastic fiction may again become popular in the most unexpected way.

SGK represents a new stage in the development of the publishing industry. It opens the curtain on what bookstores might be like in the mature age of information: a hybrid of library and display cases, whose job is to save and make money on books. But maintaining a balance between the public good of libraries and the free market of stores will be difficult. Who will win? A store that turned an archive into a paid repository? Or a library that created an excellent collection, available for free, but not able to maintain itself in proper condition due to the impossibility of income for sellers or authors?

I believe the compromise solution will win, in which the showcase provides the library. But in order to embark on this path, we need to provide this library with guarantees. The books of authors who have died or are missing, the books we are trying to keep, cannot be allowed to disappear or be censored as books by surviving authors. Future store libraries should be regulated not only by industry groups such as the Registry, for the same reasons that current libraries are protected by legal regulations on the protection of funds and privacy.

To the delight of fans of popular science fiction, I can say that the merger of libraries and stores will mean only one thing: an increase in the volume of science fiction or cheap novels. We will get unprecedented access to the mass of literature published in the first half of the 20th century. Many of these novels and short stories are classics, lost in the bowels of libraries and archives, worthy of attention today.

I think we are waiting for a renaissance of popular fiction. At one point, we can access strange, unusual literature that is both classy and commercially unprofitable in the current publishing business. Authors of small and medium-sized forms of popular science fiction will again be able to earn money as a writer. For all lovers of the genre, this is good news.

I want to live at a time when the alien-lesbian Journey to the Tentacle Cave will be on the same shelf as another masterpiece of vampire celibacy Stephenie Meyer and in one click from Ralph Ellison's Invisibility. This is the future of cost-effective open book shelving. I believe that SGK, with proper careful regulation, could be the first timid step on the path that will lead us into this future.

Thanks to Derek Slater (Policy Analyst, Google), Fred Von Lohmann (Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation), Joe Gratz (Attorney, Durie Tangri) for answers to questions and corrections on the topic of SGK. All errors, of course, are mine.

All illustrations are made by Joe Alterio, except the lowest, made by Adam Koford. All of these monsters can be found in the Gallery of monsters and robots .

The author of this article, Annalee Newitz, can be reached at annalee@io9.com .

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