Google to spread the Book Search wealth

It's not that Google has suddenly turned socialist. It's just that the company has finally realized

that it's easier to make a profit when you play nicely with your partners than when you simply steamroll over them. The search giant announced it would be paying out $125 million to settle a three-year-old copyright infringement suit with authors and publishers over its Google Book Search program. The deal is good for authors and publishers, who get $45 million right upfront, a new copyright holders registry, and an agreement to share the proceeds from future Book Search revenue. But it also turns out to be good for Google, since it opens the program to far more texts and it keeps Book Search's revenue-generating capabilities intact. The deal is a win-win and a nice blueprint for Google to follow in its other high-profile copyright case--Viacom vs. YouTube.

First some history. Google launched Book Search in 2004, when it began scanning and indexing books from university libraries and providing snippets of text in response to search queries. The problem was that Google failed to get copyright holder permissions before adding their works to the program. Adding further insult to injury, Google put the onus on the copyright holders: If they didn't specifically contact Google and prohibit the use of their work in Book Search, then too bad. Lack of contact implied permission, or so Google thought. Begging to differ, the Author's Guild and several publishers filed suit about a year later, charging Google with copyright infringement.

Fast forward to today. Under the settlement deal, Google will pay $45 million, or about $60 per book, to authors and publishers of works scanned into Book Search without permission prior to the deal. It will also earmark $34.5 million to establish a registry of copyright holders, and rights holders will get 63% of Google's Book Search-related revenue. Google, in turn, can freely use out-of-print material, where the opt-out policy remains in place. But it will also gain the right to scan copyrighted material currently in print, as long as the authors and publishers decide to first opt into the program.

It's how Book Search should have been structured in the first place. Google's finally realized that there is no Book Search without author/publisher approval, and the deal makes them true partners, at little cost to Google (especially compared with legal fees). The same holds true with the Viacom suit. If Google is looking to make money from copyrighted video material, it needs to cut the content owner in on the action. And if it structures the deal right, both players stand to make more money in the end. Google's new tool, which lets content owners remove material from YouTube or choose to run ads against it, is a good example. It's a commonsense approach. Let's hope it continues.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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