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John Burfisher/MEDILL

Customer walks into Books-A-Million in downtown Chicago.  Lately, many customers have switched to e-books.  Now publishers will have a piece of that pie.

Publishers get final word with Google

by John Burfisher
Oct 04, 2012

Google Inc. and a group of U.S. publishers announced Thursday that they reached an agreement concerning the rights of copyright holders when Google digitizes their journals and books.

The agreement comes seven years after the Association of American Publishers filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the search engine giant.

The agreement does not affect litigation with individual authors, said Maggie Shiels, a spokeswoman for Google. The Authors Guild, which represents authors, is still in litigation with Google over a similar issue.

“U.S. publishers can choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitized by Google for its library project,” according to a release issued by the group.

Tom Allen, president and CEO of the group, acknowledged that a middle ground has been established and users can still access content electronically while publishers have the right to not digitize their work.

Nicholas Carr, a technology, culture, and economics writer said that Google has retreated from its earlier stand on copyright infringement. “Legally it comes down to Google’s interpretation of fair use,” said Carr in an interview. “It certainly is helpful because Google is ceding power back to the publishers.” Carr is the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains.”

Paul Booth, assistant professor at DePaul University, said the agreement comes at a very important time. “Last year we saw the first major e-book reader year,” said Booth. “With the e-book revolution, major publishing offices have more incentive to get books out in e-book form.” Booth is the author of “Digital Fandom: New Media Studies.”

Reginald Gibbons, professor of English at Northwestern University, takes an opposing point of view. Gibbons said e-books are "wonderfully convenient for readers but devastating to writers." Gibbons warns that publishers are being squeezed and the compensation for authors is disappointing.

Andi Sporkin, vice president of communications for the group, said the agreement will help readers find books online while helping Google repair relationships with U.S. publishers.

DePaul’s Booth agreed that Google’s digitized books are important for publishers and authors: “While it might in the short term hurt my sales, in the long term it helps my name get out there, and my work.”

Still, there’s a question regarding how publishers will be compensated, according to Carr. A key point is how publishers will be compensated for material distributed since the lawsuit was filed.

Shiels said that she couldn’t comment on the business aspects of the agreement, which are made confidential. But she said, “The publishers never sought monetary damages.”