Google Books: Scan First, Ask Questions Later

In a revision to the Google Books Settlement filed in federal court late Friday night, Google and the Authors Guild made concessions to industry groups, regulators and others who have vocally opposed the plan. But the search giant refuses to budge on one of the agreement’s most controversial points.

So-called orphan works, millions of books for which copyright laws still apply but whose rights owner is unknown or cannot be located, will still be scanned and sold in an online registry. New revisions to the plan call for an independent trustee to collect revenues generated from orphan works for up to 10 years, or until the rights holders are found. After 10 years, that money will be donated towards the continued effort to seek out copyright owners.

In September, head of the US Copyright Office Marybeth Peters said Google’s initial “opt-out” proposal to scan orphan works before attempting to find rights owners amounted to a throwing out of “fundamental copyright principles.” Though the most recent revisions stipulate more rigorous steps for collecting and distributing money to authors and publishers, the proposed agreement is still opt-out, as Danny Sullivan pointed out in his blog Search Engine Land. Peters is still likely to object.

Other revisions which are likely to sway some critics include a new geographical limit to the the deal. Now, the Google Books Settlement applies only to U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. That will please the governments of France and Germany, who have objected to the plan.

In the next week, U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin is expected to schedule a fairness hearing to hear arguments for and against the revised agreement. Expect to hear from groups like the Open Book Alliance, the coalition led by former Microsoft antitrust watchdog Gary Reback, which has already objected to the new agreement in a blog post.

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