back to article Is Google's culture grab unstoppable?

Google dealt itself a powerful piece of the future in the proposed settlement of the "Google Books" case in 2008. The plaintiffs, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, permitted Google to pay itself to build a proprietary technology infrastructure for a "Book Rights Registry". This effectively creates a …


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  1. Bernard

    It's lucky

    It's lucky that Google's motto is 'don't be evil'. Otherwise I might not trust them with this kind of power.

  2. Adair Silver badge

    Where is Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?

    The usual, informal, solution to land grabs of this kind is for objecting organisations and individuals to give the traditional two fingered salute, the requisite "F*ck you", and get on with with doing their own thing with their own material.

    Google's ploy in the end relies on sufficient sheep just obediently doing what they are told; but the reality is: 'Who the hell is Google?' They are just another commercial entity, that's all, and just like the 'barons' anywhere they can be faced down.

    Up the revolution! We have nothing to lose but our copy rights.

  3. Timothy Bogart
    Gates Horns


    Lets see now, a competitor would have to find funds to set up a similar service and work out licensing with the copyright holders. In other words, 'pay itself' to do the work ...

    Which is just what you are describing Google as doing.

    Come on folks, being successful is not the same as being a monopoly. We have an excellent example of THAT to measure against

  4. Michael Habel

    Is that some DeusEX in that Pic??

    Goes to reinstall it...

  5. rasputinsDog
    Black Helicopters

    Have we misread the tea leaves

    While we were concerned about big bad m$ taking over the world, g$ snuck up behind us as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Many speculate that g$ is working on as os, possibly cloud based. What happens if g$ owns not only our desktops and the internet, but our information and our culture also. At least m$ was only wanted our pc's.

  6. BioTube


    Unfortunately, they have more than enough sheeple on their side. Hell, the march of civilization is nothing but the increasing of the sheeple:people ratio.

  7. BillPhollins
    Paris Hilton

    @Timothy Bogart

    "Come on folks, being successful is not the same as being a monopoly."

    Did you actually read the article? Using funds and tactics to prevent competition is behaving as a monopoly, that is what Google are doing in a number of avenues. MS look pretty open these days compared to Google.

    Paris, because even she can tell the difference between monopoly and success.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ....a company negotiates the rights to scan books from the book publishers, after investing in the infrastructure necessary to do so.

    Another company wishing to do so would also have to build the infrastructure and negotiate the rights.

    Oh noes! Hide the women and children! A company is buying a product (publication rights) from another company, and doesn't want its price to be undercut after it's already paid! How unprecedented! How vile! How... standard.

    But google is doing it, so everyone panic. Right.

  9. Pat O'Ban

    It's not all evil.

    Take a look at They're still scanning, with the help of many libraries that have refused Googles terms, and some are using the kit that MS donated when it abandoned their scanning project. You may like to do a piece on this, they deserve the publicity. Happy New Year.

  10. Dave

    opt in or out

    I think the opt out is a necessary part of progress. When I upgraded people from windows 98 at work they all complained. same from 2000. now they love XP. people fear change because it is change. This allows Google to get the job done and finished, then we can improve it afterwards. I realise content owners will be upset, but I doubt that, initially at least, online books will detract from book sales. Heck, I even still buy my books from a shop, and that costs me more money than online!

  11. Francis Fish
    Gates Horns

    @David Wiernicki

    Google and only Google is doing it. Only they have the muscle. The "product" is our culture, which belongs (subject to the creators being properly paid for their work, of course) to all of us, not some narrow-minded advertising company.

    Problem is: all of the competition have flown themselves into a mountain recently and I can't see any way round allowing them to do this - so it should be regulated in some way to stop abuse, even though I don't like regulation in general.

    And, on principle, I don't like assuming opt-in.

  12. system

    RE: Sooo....

    Nope. Google is negotiating with 2 bodies, a collection of somewhere around 8000 authors/literary agents/attorneys, and a trade association for publishers. Both of these groups are primarily for American authors and publishers.

    If you read the proposed notice from google (awaiting court approval), you will see that this affects all authors and publishers in all countries covered by the Berne Convention.

    Under the settlement, google is authorised to: 1) sell to institutions subscriptions to an electronic Books database, 2) sell online access to individual Books, 3) sell advertising on pages from Books, and 4) make other uses. In exchange, google will pay 63% of all revenues through the registry that google itself is setting up. The registry itself is expected to take 10-20% of the income for "administrative fees".

    For having already made digital copies of works, google will pay $60 per infringement for each complete book. Rather low when compared with the sort of payments expected by the RIAA/MPAA for each non-commercial infringement of the same type. To receive this $60, authors will need to register a valid claim before 2010.

    Authors of out of print books will lose all their rights to exclusive distribution unless they opt-out. Google is given the right to not only sell copies of these out of print books, but to place adverts on every page. This right is granted for the full copyright term of the book.

    Authors of in print books "may" be able to negotiate different terms with google, but no such point is made with regards to out of print books. So in addition to losing the right to keep a book out of print, those authors will also be paid a fee set by google regardless of their own wishes about pricing.

    Rightsholders are specifically not allowed to remove their books from all uses unless they do so before 2011. If books are not removed before then, google has a right to use that work for any purposes they deem fit as long as the work is not displayed (providing of course that the author opted out their out of print works).

    Future possibilities listed in the notice include on demand printing. If your book is out of print and you have not yet told google that they cannot use it, tough titty to you. They'll print your book and charge whatever they see fit for it. You may then get your fair share of the money, or you may not. Depends on whether the registry has your details, or whether your old publisher is claiming ownership. There will also be a cut going to all the authors of books that don't sell just for being included in the registry.

    On the subject of inclusion fees, "Once Rightsholders have received their Inclusion Fees, they will no longer be permitted to exclude their Books or Inserts from subscriptions unless the Inclusion Fees are returned to the Registry". So, it's all or nothing. If you allow google subscribers to browse your work for 2 years, you'd better be in it for the long haul or you'll get nothing at all.

    To cap all this off, if you aren't registered with the registry, you wont see a penny. Unclaimed funds will not be reserved while the registry tries to find the rights holder, they will instead be paid to the registry and to authors who are registered.

    So, no, this is not fair competition. Google is effectively getting to stomp all over copyright, snatch up huge volumes of out of print books, print and publish without permission from the copyright holders and generally crap all over authors from all nations who will be given no options in the U.S. court system. Unless copyright laws are changed to allow other companies to wade in and snatch what they want on an opt-out basis, this is nothing like competition.

  13. Danny O. Snow

    If not Google, who? If not now, when?

    The AG-AAP settlement opens the door to bringing back MILLIONS of out-of-print books, and extending the lives of millions more "backlist" titles. This has PROFOUND implications for mankind; it delivers huge benefits to readers, writers AND book publishers... not just to Google. Even booksellers (many of whom currently fear the outcome) could be vested in the process if they are foresighted enough to change with the times.

    As we enter 2009, the conventional book publishing industry is reeling from a global economic crisis, preceded by years of failure to evolve more effective business models from an outmoded and wasteful architecture. Yet Google remains strong enough to commit the resources needed to achieve this historic leap in the evolution of the "printed" word.

    I don't know another entity more capable or willing to make it happen. All of us who love the written word should applaud Google's efforts, and get on with the business of dragging the book world (kicking and scream, if necessary) into the 21st century.

    -- Danny O. Snow, Senior Fellow, The Society for New Communications Research and author of "Steal this e-Book!"

  14. fishman

    Opt out

    While I hate most opt-out policies, there is one area where it makes a little sense. Due to our wonderful US congress lengthening the time of copyright protection, some works may be very difficult or impossible to track down the copyright holder. So I would propose bounding the opt out to works that are 40+ years old.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Danny O. Snow


  16. Adair Silver badge


    Time for a Creative-Commons licence that specifically excludes Google from having any 'rights' over the work?

  17. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    @Danny O. Snow

    Would that be the "Book of the Long Tail" you're dusting off by any chance? I'd thought we'd manage to scare off all Web 2.0 cultists but obviously not. As you're unlikely to understand any form of irony: you and your fellow "fellows" are self-deluding fools. Profound implications for mankind, indeed! Why? Is it a cure for malaria?

    Thanx El Reg for an excellent article and thanx to those commenters with additional information. To recap for the hard of thinking, the whole thing started off by Google illegally scanning copyrighted and out of copyright works ostensibly for "the greater good". But instead of a court case which should lead to a seizure of all related assets and a promise not to do it again, Google has turned it into a landgrab and precedent for other media (read YouTube - "Viacom come to an agreement or have it dictated to you by Google's pet courts") for Google to place its adverts. Next step - copyrighting the future.

    Mind you, I reckon we'll all go along with whatever Google wants if it leads to unlimited, free porn!

  18. Matthew Ellen

    What was the song?

    Money For Nothing?

  19. Joe Harrison

    All your books are belong to us

    What if eventually the only extant copy of a book is on Google's computer? What if there were political pressure to change content and rewrite history? How will they defend themselves against the inevitable allegations (even if false) that they acquiesced?

  20. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Nothing to see here...

    ...except the slow death of western civilisation.

    For in-copyright material, I don't see how an agreement between Google and a third party can cause me to lose my rights of copyright over works that I produce. Unless of course, I give those rights to the third party, in which case it isn't really a third party anymore.

    For out-of-copyright material, I don't see how Google can stop me doing the same thing if I want to. The material is out of copyright and I can do whatever I like with it.

    Of course, this is how the system is *supposed* to work, but we've seen with patents that common sense provisions like "novel" and "non-obvious" that are written into the original treaties then get ignored by both courts and administrative agencies. If that happens to copyright, it will be bad, but the problem will be nothing to do with books per se, it will be the demise of the rule of law in western society.

    Oh, and why *isn't* there a "Google horns" icon? Conspiracy or cock-up. You decide.

  21. system

    Business opportunity

    1) Have a mate set up a new musicians association and sign up some local bands.

    2) Share some of their tracks and have them sue you.

    3) Settle in a similar manner to this.

    4) Start a site offering "out of print" (with your own definition of "out of print" of course) songs from all artists at 10p per track.

    5) Profit!

  22. jana

    A third party can assign your rights

    >For in-copyright material, I don't see how an agreement

    >between Google and a third party can cause me to lose my

    >rights of copyright over works that I produce.

    I didn't believe it either until I read up on class-action lawsuits, which can indeed do that.

  23. blackworx


    Right now publishers are going down the same road trodden by RIAA/MPAA, they're just 10 years behind the curve. And well they might, as they want to do exactly what RIAA did - try to protect its members' profit margins.

    Mind you, have any of you even tried to buy an eBook recently? The whole system is a bloody joke. Fucking right there's going to be a lot of corporate bloodletting in the publishing world over the next few years, but if this Google registry is all that comes of it, what have we gained? Advertising in books? Splendid, just splendid.

    Surely, if the final judgment allows this nonsense to go ahead, it should at least involve complete and involuntary removal of this registry from the parent company after it's all up and running and the set up money has been spent? I think that would be a more just punishment for their wholesale copyright theft.

    PS: Good article, er I think, but I'll have to read it another 2 or 3 times to fully understand it. What can I say? Either I'm a bit dim or it's a tad impenetrable in places.

    @system: well put sir.

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