Google, AAP Settle Copyright Lawsuit

Kevin Canfield
From the January/February 2013 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) and Google recently resolved a seven-year legal standoff, settling their differences over Google’s digitization of copyrighted books and journals as part of the company’s Library Project. The settlement concludes a suit filed on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Penguin USA, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson Education in which the AAP claimed that Google’s Library Project, which makes digitized titles partially accessible online, was a copyright violation. While the financial details have not been disclosed, under the new agreement publishers have the ability to withdraw copyrighted works that Google has digitized and can also submit works for inclusion in the Google Books database. Google will provide electronic copies of the titles it digitizes to their publishers, who can then use them to create e-books.

In a statement, AAP president and CEO Tom Allen said the association is “pleased that this settlement addresses the issues that led to the litigation. It shows that digital services can provide innovative means to discover content while still respecting the rights of copyright-holders.”

Google declined to comment on the specifics of the outcome, but in a recent statement, David Drummond, a Google senior vice president and the company’s chief legal officer, said, “By putting this litigation with the publishers behind us we can stay focused on our core mission and work to increase the number of books available to educate, excite, and entertain our users.”

The Google-AAP settlement had no bearing on the Authors Guild’s copyright lawsuits—one against Google and one against HathiTrust, a collaborative effort by university research libraries and Google to digitize millions of books and journals. Judge Harold Baer  Jr. of the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of HathiTrust in October 2012, deciding that the collaborative project is not a copyright violation; the suit against Google, which was also filed in 2005, is still being argued in the courts.

The Authors Guild is asking that Google pay $750 for each copyrighted work it has digitized as part of the Library Project, which reportedly exceeds 20 million titles in total.

The guild declined a request for comment on its pending suit against Google, but in an October 2012 blog post on its website the organization responded to the judge’s ruling in the
HathiTrust matter, stating it “disagree[s] with nearly every aspect of [Baer’s] ruling. We’re especially disappointed that the court refused to address the universities’ [Orphan Works Project], which defendants have repeatedly promised to revive.” Developed by the University of Michigan Library in partnership with several universities across the country, the Orphan Works Project involves a plan to release out-of-print or otherwise unavailable books—all of which have been digitized by HathiTrust and are still subject to copyright, but whose authors or copyright holders, the project administrators claimed, could not be identified or contacted—to students and faculty within the participating university systems.

“Within two days of filing our lawsuit,” the blog post continues, “Authors Guild members and staff found that the ‘orphans’ included books that were still in print, books by living authors, books whose rights had been left to educational and charitable institutions in the United States and abroad, books represented by literary agents, and books by recently deceased authors whose heirs were easily locatable.” In its most recent announcement, the University of Michigan Library—which admitted in 2011 that its original model was flawed—stated that the process of identifying true orphan works is still under way, and that there were no official plans to release titles. 

Kevin Canfield is a freelance writer living in New York City.