Google Hits A Snag In Digitizing World's Books

Google has been scanning millions of books from libraries around the world. Some are called orphan works because it's hard to find the author but the books are still covered by copyright laws. Google and the Author's Guild reached an agreement on orphan works but a judge has nixed the deal.

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Google is facing a new problem in its efforts to digitize the world's books, as NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: As part of its mission to make all the world's information accessible, Google has been scanning millions of books from libraries around the world. Some of those books are called orphan works. These are works where it's hard to find the author but they are still covered by copyright laws. Google and the Author's Guild reached an agreement that would let Google make money on the orphan books and set aside some money if the author came to claim it.

But Judge Denny Chin nixed the agreement.

CINDY COHN: A class action settlement would seem to be a pretty uncomfortable vehicle for doing something as ambitious as what Google wanted to do.

SYDELL: That's Cindy Cohn, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposed the deal. Cohn says Judge Chin raised questions about the settlement because it gave Google rights to orphan works that no other company would have. Cohn agrees with the judge. She says Congress should deal with the issue of orphan works so that any company can digitize books.

COHN: Setting up something that maybe could look a little bit like what Google was setting up, only making it available for everyone, where there is a place where fees are deposited for authors.

SYDELL: But, Cohn admits that it could take a great deal of time for Congress to act. Google and the Author's Guild could try to reach a new settlement.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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