Class Action and Copyright: The Author’s Guild et al. v. Google Inc.

What does this case mean for us as users of Google Books?

“Judge Chin’s ruling changes little for Google users. About two million books that are in the public domain, such as works of William Shakespeare, currently can be viewed free on the Google Books site. They also are available through Google eBooks, a new online book store that allows people to purchase and read books on different devices.

Google Books users currently can view long previews of another two million books that are in copyright and in print, thanks to agreements between Google and tens of thousands of publishers that were separate from the legal settlement. Millions more books that are in copyright but out of print are currently available in Google Books in a shorter “snippet view.” Had the settlement been approved, users would have been able to see longer previews and potentially buy those books.” (Amir Efrati & Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg).

The settlement only affects a small portion of the books that Google makes available, “fewer than 10 million books of 174 million books in the world would be affected by the settlement, and that 5 million of those affected were out of print. Google has estimated that about 130 million titles would likely get into its digital library” (NYC Judge).

Judge Chin has ruled that Google should not be able to benefit from making copyrighted material available and searchable online without the permission of the copyright owner. Instead of permitting copyright owners to opt out, they should be allowed to opt in to the settlement agreement under which Google would: “pay $125 million to establish a registry to allow authors and publishers to register their works and get paid when their titles are viewed online” (Ashby Jones).

One issue that the Google books case has brought to the forefront is the need for an international legislative framework to address orphan works, that is, books whose copyright owners cannot be located. The proposed settlement would “let Google sell full access to copyrighted works that it otherwise would have no right to exploit” (Hillel Italie & Michael Liedtke).

It may take a while for such a framework to be crafted by the U.S and foreign legislators. In the meantime, “Google and the Author’s Guild could try to reach a new settlement” (Sydell).

However, another problem with the proposed settlement is that it would violate international law, as it would purport to allow Google to use without permission, intellectual property belonging to foreign nationals (Hillel Italie & Michael Liedtke).

Although the settlement has been rejected, it is still possible to search Google Books, and the public digital library project will still move forward. One benefit of the Google digitization project is the HathiTrust Digital Library, an online repository containing over 8 million works, mostly provided by Google. It is searchable using a Proquest search tool called Summon. (Steve Kolowich).


John C. Abell, The Catch-22 of Google Books, Reuters, Media File, Mar 28, 2011 available at

Melissa Block, Judge Rejects Google Books Deal, NPR, March 22, 2011, available at

Robert Darnton, Six Reasons Google Books Failed, The New York Review of Books, March 28, 2011, available at

Robert Darnton, A Digital Library Better Than Google’s, The New York Times, March 23, 2011, available at

Amir Efrati and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Judge Rejects Google Books Settlement, The Wall Street Journal,   MARCH 23, 2011, available at

Michael Hiltzik, Creating a digital public library without Google’s money, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2011, available at,0,770127.column

Jennifer Howard, Research Libraries See Google Decision as Just a Bump on the Road to Widespread Digital Access, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2011, available at

Hillel Italie and Michael Liedtke, New York judge calls off plans for Google library, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, MARCH 22, 2011, available at

Ashby Jones, Banned Books? Judge Chin Shoots Down Google Pact With Publishers, Wall Street Journal Law Blog, March 22, 2011, available at

The Associated Press, Judge Echoes Google Critics In Digital Book RulingMarch 23, 2011, available at

Steve Kolowich, Google Who?, Inside Higher Ed, March 28, 2011, available at

Associated Press, NYC judge rejects Google books settlement, March 22, 2011,,0,2323688.story

Online books and copyright law, Editorial Board Opinion, Washington Post, available at

Eyder Peralta, Judge Rejects Book-Scanning Deal Between Google And Publishers, Authors, March 22, 2011, available at

Laura Sydell, Google Hits A Snag In Digitizing World’s Books, NPR, March 23, 2011, available at

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