Monthly Archives: June 2009

Roy Blount: Let’s Not Lose Our Heads Over a “Monopoly” of Orphans

June 24, 2009.

Dear Fellow Authors,

I’d like to talk to you about orphans.  Recently, regarding our settlement with Google, some dissent has been voiced that centers on so-called “orphan books.” I am all for dissent. I would generally rather be a dissenter, myself, than not. It was the Guild’s dissent from Google’s scanning of copyrighted books that led to this settlement. I can’t see any reason to dissent from the settlement over the matter of orphan books.

Orphan books are out-of-print books for which you can’t find the rightsholders, so you can’t get permission to use the books.  The settlement will allow Google to make these works available to readers without tracking down the books’ rightsholders. Since no one else will have this option, dissenters’ concern is that Google will have a monopoly on these books.

Some dissenters are so alarmed at this prospect that they’d rather have the settlement fail. In that case, these “orphan books” would remain in limbo for everyone. And so would all the other out-of-print books that the settlement would make available, and marketable, online.

Let’s examine the dissenters’ concern. This alleged monopoly will be of a special kind of book.  The book will be out of print, that is, it will already have been deemed unfit for continued commerce by traditional print publishers.  No one currently has a monopoly on the book, because there is no market for the book: no one can get it, except at the library or in a used book store.  So Google is essentially being accused of cornering the market on the unmarketable. And these orphans are only a subset of that market. Dissenters concede that Google wouldn’t get a monopoly on all currently unmarketable books, because the settlement’s arrangements are non-exclusive: rightsholders are free to provide access to anyone they want, including Google’s competitors.

The settlement creates an enormous market. Google will be the sole purveyor authorized by the settlement for only a portion of that market: for those out-of-print books whose rightsholders can’t be found.

When, you may ask, is a book consigned to the orphanage?  Some people have the impression that most out-of-print books are orphans. That’s not true. Most authors I know have written some books that are out of print.  Me too.  We are all findable. So are most of the authors I don’t know. Many of us have produced books that included excerpts from other copyrighted work. The Guild did a survey a few years ago on how difficult it is for authors to clear rights to these excerpts. Of the authors that had tried, 85% reported that they had been “rarely” or “never” unable to reach the rightsholder to ask permission.  I sit on the board of the Authors Registry, a non-profit organization that helps pay authors for photocopy and other uses of their books from overseas.  Its success rate at finding authors of out-of-print books is upwards of 80%. If you look for authors, the odds of finding them go way up. 

Another thing about this ostensible monopoly of the orphans: it will diminish every year.  The new Book Rights Registry is obliged to locate authors. As the Registry starts sending out checks, books will exit the orphanage in a rush. Nothing gets an author’s attention like a royalty check. It’s not an orphan books problem that this settlement presents, it’s an orphan books solution.

But orphan books are only a small part of the settlement. To prevent a monopoly of the orphans, the dissenters would undo a wide range of benefits to authors, publishers, and readers. We’ve put together a brief statement of the benefits of the Google book settlement. You might want to print it out and tape it to your monitor.  It follows.  Click here.

Unmonopolistically Yours,

Roy Blount Jr.
President, Authors Guild

Unlocking a Vast Archive of Out-of-Print Books: An Outline of Google Book Settlement Benefits

June 24, 2009. Millions of copyright-protected books are out of print and largely out of reach, available only through the largest research libraries in the country.  The Google Book Settlement announced in October 2008 – the result of 30 months of negotiations between and among authors, publishers, university libraries and Google — changes all that, working a revolution in the access to knowledge.  If approved by the court, the settlement will:

· Provide readers and researchers with access to millions of out-of-print books, many of which are currently difficult or impossible for readers to obtain, in a searchable online database.
· Turn every public library building in the U.S. into a world-class research facility by providing free access to the online portal of out-of-print books.
· Permit any college or university in the U.S. to subscribe to the same rich database of out-of-print books.
· Give new commercial life to millions of books, while protecting the economic rights of authors and publishers.

I.   Benefits for Readers and Researchers
The settlement unlocks a vast archive of out-of-print books, providing readers and researchers with far greater access to books than ever before.

Access at your public library. The settlement turns every library into a world-class research facility, by offering every public library building in the U.S. – all 16,500 of them – a free online portal to millions of out-of-print books.

Access at colleges and universities. The settlement offers students and teachers in even the smallest and most remote American colleges and universities access, through institutional subscriptions, to millions of books previously available only in the largest academic libraries in the country.  Faculty members and students will be able to tap into this library from their offices and dorm rooms.

Access at your computer.  Anyone online in the U.S. will have free “preview” access to hundreds of millions of pages of text (up to 20% of each book).[1]  Review hundreds of accounts of the Battle of Vicksburg, or of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, or of the sources and interpretation of Moby Dick, at no charge.  Find one book particularly compelling?  Buy access to the entire book.  Access to public domain books is free, of course, and authors controlling the rights to their books can choose to give away access for free.

This is just the beginning for readers and researchers.Technology is moving ahead quickly in the publishing industry.  E-books are beginning to find a genuine market, for example, and on-demand publishing is entering its next phase as a machine scaled and priced to fit in many bookstores is now available.  Since all of Google’s uses of books under the settlement will be non-exclusive, rightsholders and the Book Rights Registry will be free to take advantage of such innovations and make out-of-print books available again to readers through new channels as they arise. Book publishing’s “long tail” — the list of books that are viable in the competitive market through the use of new technologies — is poised to grow by an order of magnitude.

II.  Benefits for Authors and Publishers

Out of print books have value, but that value is lost to the market and to authors and publishers.  The settlement breathes new commercial life into out-of-print books, while leaving the existing market for in-print books alone.

Find new readers.  Out-of-print books need no longer be relegated to the used book market.  The settlement will make out-of-print works available to hundreds of millions of readers, through ad-supported previews, sales of online editions, and institutional subscriptions.  If a book catches on, there will be sales data to prove it, which may create an opportunity to bring the work back into print in traditional form.

In-print books are unaffected.  A cardinal rule in the negotiations was not to disturb the market for in-print books.  Titles that are in print won’t be made available through any of the means described in the settlement, unless the author and publisher expressly want them to be.

 A Book Rights Registry to protect rightsholders.  A non-profit registry governed by authors and publishers will oversee the settlement on their behalf, to help make sure rightsholders receive the benefits they’re entitled to.  (Sign up for the Registry by filing a claim at

A fair share of revenues.  63% of gross revenues go to authors and publishers; Google keeps 37%.  Funds will be paid to the Book Rights Registry, which will pay authors and publishers after retaining a modest administrative fee.  If rights have reverted to authors, they will receive 100% of the rightsholder revenue.

Unprecedented control for authors and publishers. Authors and publishers will manage their rights through an account management page at the Book Rights Registry.  Authors who control rights to their works, for example, may choose to allow Google to display ad-supported previews of books, sell online editions (authors may set the price or let an algorithm do it for them), and license the work to colleges and universities, or they may choose to block all display uses.  Authors can change their minds, at any time, with reasonable notice.  What if a book comes back into traditional print?  The rightsholder can then simply turn off all display uses, if it chooses, and permit the publisher to sell the work through standard retail outlets.

Authors’ estates, too.  Authors’ estates exercise the same rights as authors.

At least $45 million in payments for unauthorized scanning.  Any of Google’s digitizing of in-copyright books done before May 5, 2009 is considered unauthorized under the settlement.  Google will pay to obtain a release of these copyright infringement claims.  Under the settlement, Google will pay at least $60 and as much as $300 to rightsholders for each book that it scanned without authority, for a total payment to rightsholders of at least $45 million.

This is just the beginning for authors and publishers.  Since all of Google’s uses of books under the settlement will be non-exclusive, rightsholders and the Book Rights Registry will be free to innovate and find other ways to make books available to readers.  Book publishing’s “long tail” – the list of books that are viable in the competitive market through the use of new technologies — is poised to grow by an order of magnitude.


[1] Here’s the math: we expect the settlement to make at least 10 million out-of-print books available, which, at an average of 300 pages per book, represents at least 3 billion pages of professionally written, professionally edited text.  20% of that is 600 million pages of text available at every desktop computer in the U.S. as a free preview. (For comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica is about 44,000 pages in print form; Wikipedia’s featured articles total about 5,000 pages. All English Wikipedia articles, including stubs, total perhaps 3 million pages.)