Should I Opt Out? Should I Fear Google? What about the Money? Answers about the Google Book Settlement

There’s not much time left for authors to opt out. What should I do?

Short answer: nothing.

Longer answer: Opting out of the settlement is for authors who want to preserve their right to sue Google themselves. We don’t think there are any such authors.

Then, do I need to sign up somewhere?

You don’t have to—your rights are fully protected either way. But yes, we do recommend that you claim your books. It’s easy to do that on line, at www.googlebooksettlement.com. Then when money starts coming in that belongs to you, the Book Rights Registry will know where to find you.

What money?

If Google scanned your book from any library, you may be entitled to a small payment just for that: at least $60 per book, and up to $300, depending on how many people claim their books. (The deadline is next January 5 and, again, you sign up at www.googlebooksettlement.com.)

There will also be money from advertising. When Google displays ads next to any page from a book of yours, you are entitled to a share of the money.

And then there will be money from institutional licenses and from sales to consumers who find books through Google search and want to read more than a small sample.

In addition, there will be per-page printing fees from users of free access terminals in public and academic libraries throughout the country.

All this applies to millions of books that have been out of print. Books still in print (published up to January 5th of this year) can be included if that’s what both the author and publisher want.

But what if I don’t want Google displaying my book at all?

You are fully protected. The settlement gives rights holders full control over how their books appear in the program. You can tell Google to display nothing at all. You can display only snippets. You can let users see a fixed percentage of the book. You can let users buy the ability to read the whole book.

And you can change your mind at any time.

Assuming I do want to let readers buy access to my book, who decides the price?

You do. The rights holder.

Google has developed an algorithm to help find optimal prices for different books. Those prices will be used when rights holders don’t want to decide on their own, or when rights holders can’t be found.

But the rights holder can always take over and specify a price.

Am I the rights holder — or is the publisher — if my book is out of print?

When your book goes out of print, rights should revert to you, but generally you have to take action to make sure that happens: send a written request to your publisher. This settlement makes it more important than ever that authors do that.

If rights haven’t reverted, you and your publisher share control (and share the revenue). But you always retain veto power.

What is Google’s role in the new Book Rights Registry?

None. As part of the settlement, Google has to put up the start-up money to get the Registry up and running. (We expect them also to help with some tech support.) But the Registry will be controlled by a board of authors’ and publishers’ representatives; Google does not get a voice.

What about the “orphan works”? Doesn’t Google get a monopoly over those?

There is a big difference between “out-of-print” works and “orphan” works. It is inevitable that some rightsholders will not claim their out-of-print books, but we believe that over time most will. Unlike true orphan works — where the rightsholder is unfindable, such as photographs published without attribution — books have lots of identifying information that the Registry can and will use to find their rightsholders.

In this way the settlement will rescue these books from the purgatory they are in now. And as that happens — as money begins to be collected on behalf of rights holders — we’re quite sure that the rights holders will come forward. Our own experience with the Authors Registry has shown tremendous success in finding rights holders of out-of-print books. We expect the Book Rights Registry to do even better, and to create what the industry has needed for so long, a comprehensive database of copyright owners.

So we think the settlement, especially the establishment of the Book Rights Registry, is a big part of the solution to the orphan works problem. (Here’s more on the subject from Roy Blount Jr.)

Can Google “repurpose” my text to make something new? Can they add hyperlinks to other sites?

No. The settlement includes strong protections for “Integrity of the Text.” The words of a book may not be altered in any way. Google cannot add hyperlinks (except to help the reader navigate within the book: for example, from the table of contents to the referenced page).

Should I be worried about my book being marred by intrusive advertising?

There are strict limits on what Google may and may not do in the way of advertising — for example, no pop-ups or pop-unders, and nothing that blocks any portion of a book at any time. Furthermore, the rights holder always has the right to bar advertising from any of his or her books.

What if Google ever decided to make a book disappear — under pressure from a foreign government, or to block porn, or for any other reason?

If that happened, Google would be required immediately to notify the Registry and turn over a complete digital version of the book. The Registry, and libraries, may then make it available (assuming the rights holder agrees).

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