Google and publishers settle book scanning lawsuit

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Google has reached a deal to end its long-running court fight with major publishing houses over the company’s controversial decision to scan the world’s library books.

In a statement released this morning, Google and the Association of American Publishers said they have formally resolved a copyright lawsuit that began in 2005. The deal will allow publishers to use books scanned by Google as they see fit — making them available for sale or withholding them.

Google’s top lawyer, David Drummond, said in the statement that the settlement means more ebooks will become available through Google’s online bookstore, Books on Google Play.

Details of the settlement are confidential, but a Google executive revealed in a phone interview with paidContent that the company “has very robust plans to increase analytics” with publishers. This is significant because publishers have long been frustrated by Amazon’s unwillingness to share data like customer profiles and buying habits.

The deal amounts to formal recognition of a process that was occurring already, in which Google and individual publishers were reaching deals. The Google partnership is helpful to the publishers because, in many cases, it will give them access to digital versions of their backlist.

The deal between Google and the publishers is likely, however, to anger the publishers’ one-time partner, the Authors Guild. Unlike the publishers, the Guild decided last December to review its original 2005 class action claim after Judge Denny Chin blew up a controversial three-way settlement deal in the spring of 2011.

Today’s development is also likely to further complicate disputes between authors and publishers over who owns the digital rights to books published in the pre-digital era.

The Google-publisher deal does not  resolve the question of whether Google’s book scanning amounted to copyright infringement. The company is adamant that the scanning qualifies under the “fair use” exemption, while the Authors Guild is demanding it pay $750 per book. Scholars and activists like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed briefs to support Google’s fair use argument. The case is now on hold as an appeals court decides whether it should have gone forward in the first place.

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