Google Settles Long-Running Copyright Dispute with Book Publishers

Yesterday Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced that they have settled the litigation filed in 2005 by the AAP challenging the Google Books Library Project.  As we have previously reported, Google is involved in an ambitious project to digitize the contents of a number of the world’s largest libraries and to make that content available online.  The Google Books site provides excerpts of books, which Google calls “snippets,” for free; in cases where Google has the necessary rights, users can purchase complete copies of books through the new “Google Play” store.  Not surprisingly, this plan has caused concern among various stakeholders and copyright owners, and Google has for several years been defending litigation filed by the AAP, the Author’s Guild, photographers and visual artists, and a number of individuals.

While the full terms of the AAP settlement are confidential, the parties announced that the settlement will allow publishers to choose whether their books will appear in Google Books.  If publishers opt in, their books will also be available for sale through Google Play.

Importantly, the settlement of the AAP litigation does not resolve the separate lawsuits filed by authors and other content creators, which are still pending in the Southern District of New York.  Judge Denny Chin, who was elevated to the Second Circuit while those cases have been pending, is still presiding over them by designation.  As we reported last year, he rejected a settlement arrangement proposed by the parties out of concerns about its opt-out structure and its unsatisfactory treatment of the “orphan works” problem.  In May of this year, Judge Chin certified the plaintiffs’ class, and over the summer both sides filed motions for summary judgment.  However, further proceedings have recently been stayed while Google pursues an appeal to the Second Circuit of the class certification order. 

While the AAP settlement has removed one obstacle to Google’s stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” the battle over Google Books and its far-reaching copyright implications is far from over.  Stay tuned for future developments.


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