Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lessons from the Google Book Search settlement

I have been very interested to read the commentary around the Google Book Search agreement – particularly the arrangements to be put in place to track and monitor the use of works.

The ‘Books Rights Registry’ will enable authors to determine whether or not their books can be scanned with portions made available for searching. It is in essence an agreement to a collective license with protections in place for the preservation of the public domain.

Lessig Notes:
The agreement calls for the creation of a registry to be operated by a nonprofit corporation. That corporation will be governed by a board comprised of publishers and "authors" (meaning authors participating in the law suit).

And according to Silicon Valley:
Google will pay about $34.5 million to establish the registry... About 63 percent of the revenue Google earns from its book-search program will go to the registry to be divvied up among rights-holding authors and publishers. It will also pay the authors' and publishers' attorney fees.

The creation of a non profit registry for rights management with respect to literary publications is a big step forward for the long term management of books within the digital environment. For many years Lawrence Lessig and many others have been arguing that the law relating to copyright creates an inefficient property system largely due to the fact that there is no central registry of copyright holders.

In his most recent text, Remix, Lessig reflects on the social norms historically associated with the use of text – quoting with citation. He suggests that in the coming years all culture will be ‘bookified’ – that is that social norms which have already begun to emerge will enhance the expectation of all individuals to reuse and quote from culture.

One can well imagine the benefits that would flow from having a central repository of all copyright holders for all forms of expression. Enabling a system of rights registration would facilitate the process of gaining clearances, reduce litigation and enhance the ability of artists and follow on creators to more easily negotiate the uses and availability of works.

In my recent presentation relating to political music I reflected on the need for a central repository or archive and the need for integration to improve the exposure, consumption and use of oppositional audible culture. I also argued for the establishment of a non profit association to carry out these goals. The Google Book Search agreement could prove to be an excellent model worthy of examining as an analogy.

Further Reading
Lessig Blog, On the Google Book Search Agreement (29 October 2008) <> at 2 November 2008

Lessig, Remix (2008)
<> at 2 November 2008

Silicon Valley, Authors, publishers settle copyright suit against Google (29 October 2008) <> at 2 November 2008

The Register, Google settles Book Search suit for $125m (28 October 2008) <> at 2 November 2008

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