Judge Rejects Google Books Deal
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
A federal judge in New York has rejected a class-action settlement that would have allowed Google to distribute some of the many books it has scanned. That scanning is part of Google's ambitious project - the largest in the world - to digitize millions of printed books so they can be searched.
NPR's Laura Sydell has been following this story, and she joins me now. And first, Laura, let's clarify what kinds of books we're talking about here.
LAURA SYDELL: Well, the settlement would have covered all books, but at its core were something called orphan works. And these are books that you'll find in a library, that are out of print. But they still have a copyright. But nobody really knows where the author is, so they call them orphan works.
And Google started to scan these works and people could see, maybe, a little bit of the book. And they started to show up online, and there was a lawsuit. The Author's Guild basically said hey, wait a minute, you can't just - these still are copyrighted; you can't just go scanning them and putting them up there and running your ads on the same page without talking to us first.
So they made a settlement. And in the settlement, essentially, the Author's Guild said, we're going to set up a fund and if the authors show up, you're going to pay us. And they made deals around this that pretty much permitted Google to go ahead and continue to do this.
BLOCK: But U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, in New York, today found that that settlement was not appropriate. Why not? What did he say?
SYDELL: Well, you know, there were some authors that objected. And these authors essentially said, wait a minute, Google, you are essentially making a contract with publishers that's going to apply to us. And we should, individually, be able to be allowed to make a contract with a publisher over digital rights. This is a new area. The judge agreed with that.
There were also objections from companies such as Microsoft and Amazon, who said wait a minute, Google is now getting this special right over these orphaned works - and in fact, the right included not being sued, you know, later by the author because they violated the copyright. And they're saying, we don't have these rights; Google gets them. Why should they get them and then if we want to digitize books, we don't have the same rights; we have to go through the same thing? So not fair. And the judge agreed.
BLOCK: What's next in this legally, Laura? Can Google renegotiate that class- action settlement that got swatted down in court today?
SYDELL: That is a good question. I got a statement from them, from their legal office. And essentially, all they're saying right now is that they're looking it over. But there was definitely a sense that I got from it, that they were going to push forward no matter what, that they still want to do this.
After all, it is the mission of Google to digitize the world's information. That's how they make their money. That's how they draw people to the site, essentially - is, they come to the site to find information and see ads, right?
And Sergey Brin, who is the co-founder of Google, feels really strongly about this. I mean, he cited, you know, the library at Alexandria that burnt down - the famous library. And he said, we don't want to see that happen; we want to see the world's information safe. And so there's a sense, I think, even from the people at the top of the company, that this is a real priority.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Laura Sydell, reporting from San Francisco. Laura, thanks so much.
SYDELL: You're welcome.
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