back to article Googlebooks pact rejected by federal judge

A federal judge has rejected an amended version of Google's $125 million book-scanning settlement with American authors and publishers, a deal that threatened to rewrite American copyright law and give Google exclusive rights to so-called orphaned works. On Tuesday, Judge Denny Chin rejected the Amended Settlement Agreement ( …


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  1. JimC

    Three (somewhat muted) cheers...

    How do you know its an orphan work?

    I shot the parent myself...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Mixed reaction

    While I understand and largely agree with the court's verdict on this, I have to wonder what the motivation of the Alliance is in all this.

    Are they protecting the interests of writers and publishers? None of these works are actually in print and are very unlikely to ever be, so who are the real winners from this decision?

    The fact that a large portion of the human race's literature is effectively non-existent for all intents and purposes, this is a shocking state of affairs in the 21st century. Some kind of action is needed for the public good: something that does not involve giving a monopoly to one company and I think it will involve a change to the copyright acts to do it. A work that is not actively being used by the copyright holder should fall to the public domain after a reasonable (smaller) amount of time.

    1. JimC
      Thumb Down

      > are they protecting

      Obviously they are acting in their own interests, but it is possible for the interests of otherwise completely opposed parties to coincide you know... An obvious example risks invoking Godwins Law...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It not the copying and publishing that is the issue.

      If I ubnderstand it correctly it's the fact it give them EXCLUSIVE rights once they are copied, so ineffect, they then become the defacto copyright holder on non copyrighted works.

      Of course may have got it completly wrong.

  3. Ian Michael Gumby

    Finally the US Govt does something right!

    While the Alliance objected because they would be negatively impacted by the deal, there's more to the deal to hate.

    Essentially what it did was give Google a net new copyright on said derivative work. So they copy a work that isn't out of copyright and market it. Their version is under their copyright so that they in fact create a net new copyright that they control based on a work that they stole.

    There is some irony.... You can't have an "opt-in" option on orphaned works... ;-) Yeah think about it.

    If its an orphan, then who can give permissions to "opt-in"?

  4. DF118

    Whither the Google Apologists?

    I seem to remember when this story was doing the rounds a couple of years back, the comment threads were full to the gunwales with certain commentards taking a pop at anyone who joined in the criticism of Google's actions, complaining that everyone seemed to be having a go at Google for no reason other than it was the new "bete noir du jour", and all poor Google was trying to do was turn an honest buck. Any of them still around?

    1. BorkedAgain

      Uh, *hand up*

      Okay, self-confessed Google apologist right here, with certain reservations. I don't think they're as evil as some seem to think (I keep my tinfoil hat for special occasions) but in this case I thnk the decision was right.

      Like Skelband (above) I think it's a shame that the vast majority of our cultural history is vanishing into obscurity, and I think it'd be a worthwhile project to make these works accessible to the public in the public domain (judge a society by its libraries and all that) but that mustn't mean granting the rights to those works to a private company. Public domain should mean precisely that. Something like a creative commons licence, perhaps.

      The organisation doing all the work of scanning, indexing and hosting the works should be able to derive some benefit from their efforts, of course, but out-and-out ownership? Probably not. And Google have proven themselves capable of turning a tidy profit from the smallest opportunity...

      Anyway, right decision, but it looked like the G had some noble intentions. Or were planning to take over the world if you insist...

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        @Borked: Google is *evil*...

        Look, you are entitled to your opinion and I support your right for voicing your opinion...

        However you wrote:

        "Like Skelband (above) I think it's a shame that the vast majority of our cultural history is vanishing into obscurity, and I think it'd be a worthwhile project to make these works accessible to the public in the public domain (judge a society by its libraries and all that) but that mustn't mean granting the rights to those works to a private company. Public domain should mean precisely that. Something like a creative commons licence, perhaps"

        The issue isn't about 'books in the public domain'. Lets make sure we're talking about the same thing... those are books where the copyright has run out. Jack London's entire works are now in that category.

        (His writing are now for the most part 90-100 years old.)

        Legally anyone can copy those since they *are* in the public domain.

        What Google wants to do is to copy 'orphaned' works or digitize works that are still under copyright protection and to force the authors to 'opt-out' of the plan or accept whatever cut Google wants to pay for it. These are works that were published prior to the electronic age so that there doesn't already exist a digital copy of the works and are now out of print.

        If you are worried about 'public domain books', you should look at project Gutenberg ?sp? which is in the process of copying books.

        BTW... Google did attempt to get a patent on their apparatus for copying books even though it isn't all that new or novel. They did this in effect to create a barrier to entry for anyone who wants to start their own copying effort. (Amazon, Microsoft, etc...)

        Of course... if the book isn't a rare book, one can disassemble the book, do the copying and then re-glue the binding if they so desire. Or just toss it as a sacrifice to bettering the world.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up

          We understand

          Neither I nor Borked are talking about public domain books. Yes Project Gutenburg are doing a good job in this area.

          The issue at stake is society's loss of literature that is still in copyright legally but are not obtainable legitimately from the author or the original publisher. It is a similar situation with music publishing where music manuscript may be out-of-print and therefore it is just not possible to even buy a legitimate copy.

          My main concern is that literature may become lost beyond recovery by the time works reach the public domain. This is a sad state of affairs. I don't pretend to have the answer but certainly a shortening of the copyright period would be a good start.

          I don't begrudge authors and publishers from their cut for a reasonable period of time but let us not forget that copyright is not a natural law or right but a legally mandated privilege to allow authors to earn a crust. If the work has passed all possibility of this then there is no reason why it should not pass immediately into the public trust.

          This court decision is correct. A proper solution to this should come from the law and a public body, not a private company looking to take over the orphan works landscape.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby



            Look, you're talking about out of print books were you can obtain a legitimate copy of a used book in a used book store.

            Or you can find it in a library. (They still exist you know...)

            As to your comments about books in the public domain... after the copyright runs out, they are in the public 'trust'. As I said in my example, most if not all of Jack London's books fall in to this category. Why else do you think Amazon is able to give away an e-book of London's 'Call of the Wild' for free. Add to this Mark Twain, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, etc...

            Again, Google is evil.

            1. BorkedAgain


              Yeah, the used book store. One of the (many) nice things about the interwebs is that it vastly increases your chances of tracking down old, out-of-print books and having a chance to buy them legitimately on the second-hand market. I do like that.

              Here's the thing, though: If I find an old copy of an out-of-print favourite and buy it online (or indeed in a second-hand bookshop), I don't think the author or their estate will actually be seeing any royalties on that purchase either. In fact, I could walk into any charity shop and buy armfuls of Katie Price novels (cheaper than toilet paper) without subsidising her lifestyle in any way. Similar argument for libraries, assuming you're lucky enough to still have one near you.

              Are charity shops evil? They make money by dealing in copyrighted material without payment to the copyright owner. Doesn't that make them pretty wicked?

              Anyway. I can't see mere reason budging your aluminium beanie, so let's just agree to disagree. Google went too far and were slapped for it. That was the right result. But evil? Grow up.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Stop picking on Google, youare just jelous coz theyz doin well an you aint!

  5. Lghost

    A beer for the Judge ..;-)

    On behalf of writers and artists, who don't see why we should have to "opt out"..of intellectual property abuse.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ruling links for article

    Why don't article authors provide the actual links to court decisions?

    The Register when reporting about legal decisions is generally commenting about common law country decisions (UK, Commonwealth & USA courts mainly) so they are able to be understood by English speakers who share this heritage.

    This Google case includes detail about copyright, that differs in details between the common law countries (and more recent nuances with respect to the UK and EU) and bears reading.

    Took me long enough to find (lots of US courts) - so if it's any help to others here's the references:

    Court PACER:

    Judge's opinion:

  7. John Savard Silver badge

    Equal and Symmetrical

    Any arrangement between Google and book publishers must be absolutely equal and symmetrical between Google Books and any other present or future service of a similar nature. Period.

    That should be obvious, and it is gratifying, but not surprising, that the courts have finally injected a note of sanity into this proceeding. The publishers agreed to this because they simply could not afford to challenge the massive legal resources Google could bring to bear, but there are some things even the largest army of lawyers can achieve, and rewriting the law is one of them.

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge


    Upholding a law designed to protect works from unauthorised publishing and thus preventing unauthorised publishing?

    And for all those complaining that you wont be able to get hold of a copy of some limited edition work.....go to the library!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Author's POV

    Good on yer, Judge.

    Slightly to one side of the topic, but not quite off it: the whole Google system of checking copyright ownership seemed to be based on some pretty dodgy foundations anyway, so anything that buggers them about is fine by me. I'm a British novelist with 20-odd titles in print in the USA and - so far - none out of print, but I didn't want to sign the Google deal either way. Because I didn't want to opt in, and my then-current agent and publishers were aware that I wasn't opting in, I assumed I could sit back and ignore the kerfuffle until the day one of my titles went out of print.

    Then I found out by a pure fluke that an agent I'd fired some years earlier had registered some of my novels on which she was agent of record. After telling her to bloody well keep her nose out of it because she had no legal right or permission to enter into agreements for me, I contacted Google and explained that I wanted to withdraw that registration and why. Fine, they said, no problem, but it wasn't guaranteed even though I owned the copyright and could prove it. They said it was at their "discretion" but I "stood a good chance" of getting it reversed because I was the copyright owner. WTF?

    I took a look at their online registration system (as it was at the time) and found it required no verification whatsoever that the person handing over the permission actually had any legal right to do so. In fact, any random member of the public could have done it, and when I raised that issue, Google didn't seem to care much about abuses of the system. All the person registering had to do was say they were the author or their representative, and it was done. The copyright owner's only chance of protecting their IP was to become aware that someone had signed away their rights - and of course, there was no notification system from the Google end of things. I wonder how many writers have had their rights signed away and don't even know it yet. Even Amazon ran better checks than that on their Plog system.

    (AC because of the unkind things I have to say about my ex-agent, the daft cow.)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @AC... you do realize that you would have Google by the shorthairs...

      If what you said was true...

      It is not at Google's discretion to decide if the person who had signed up had the rights to sign up your works.

      If the following were to happen:

      * Someone signs up your works

      * You find out, contact Google, demonstrate that you are the copyright holder

      * You tell Google that you did not 'opt-in' and do not want your books digitized

      * ALL OF THIS HAPPENS BEFORE GOOGLE copies and offers your works for sale...

      * You also have contacted the plaintiff's lawsuit prior to any decision by the courts...

      If Google were to 'print at their discretion', you can sue them for copyright infringement.

      If you notify Google after the fact, then they would be able to defend their actions that they copied and printed your work in good faith so that they didn't intentionally violate the law and will cease offering your title. As to any compensation... that would be up to a judge to decide.

      Of course its not in Google's best interest to check and verify who is giving permission to your works.

      You have the ability to sue Google for copyright infringement.

  10. Atonnis


    I never understood the part where Google applying for a right to make money out of other peoples' works from a US court would have given them any sort of fair right to anything I or anyone outside the US may have written...

    I do find myself wondering about Google's approach here...

    'We want to do this, honest it's about making stuff available and not giving us money and power'

    'Well, you can't'

    'OK, how about we sweeten the pot by not taking ALL of the money straight away, just keeping the rights to abuse other peoples' properties by sticking adverts on them'



  11. Keith 21

    Do No Evil?

    So can we finally to rest the myth that Google abides by "Do No Evil"?

    And good on teh judge for throwing out Google's land-grab - nice to see a sensible decision by the courts!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They do but...

      Google do indeed abide by their mantra of "Do No Evil", but only for certain values of evil.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Looks like the wheels are final coming of Google's "what's-mine-is-mine-and-what's-yours-is-mine" cart.

    The biggest problem with this was always that there was no obligation for Google to track down the rights holder for orpaned works. Once they'd scanned an orphaned work it was obviously in their interest to make sure nobody ever found the rights holder.

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