Google Books Settlement: Background

The Google Library Project is in the news. The Project began in 2004 when Google announced its agreements with several libraries to digitize books in those libraries’ collections. The Project includes books in the public domain (that is, with no copyright) as well as books still subject to copyright. The University of Michigan Library is one of the many libraries that participate in the Google Library Project. Learn more about the Michigan Digitization Project.

In the fall of 2005, several major publishers, the Authors Guild, and some authors brought a class-action lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit asserted that Google infringed on their copyrights by digitizing their copyrighted works without permission. Google argued that the digitization of the books and display of a few lines was permitted under U.S. law under the doctrine of fair use. The parties have arrived at an amended settlement agreement after several years of negotiations.

The matter is again pending before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which must approve the settlement for it to go into effect. A Final Fairness Hearing is scheduled for February 18, 2010. The court will determine whether to grant final approval of the settlement. The court may approve the settlement as written - or might reject the settlement (in which case the parties could resume litigation or renegotiate the terms of the settlement in effort to arrive at a settlement that the court would be willing to approve). It is difficult to predict the final outcome.

In the Amended Settlement Agreement, the parties address key concerns raised in response to the Original Settlement Agreement, which was preliminarily approved by the Court in November of 2008. After the preliminary approval, the Original Settlement Agreement became public. In response, there was a robust public debate that raised many valid concerns by numerous people and organizations on a wide range of issues such as privacy, anti-trust and pricing matters, the rights of non-US authors, and the fate of works that are subject to copyright but for which no copyright holder is locatable (so-called ‘orphan works’). As a library, we note in particular the amicus brief filed by the American Library Association through the Association’s Washington Office, the Association of College and Research Libraries Division) and the Association of Research Libraries).

While the University of Michigan Library is a participant in the Google Library Project, it is not a party to the lawsuit. We explicitly do not intend to encourage or discourage class members in any particular direction. The information and resource provided here are presented as a service to our community. We encourage authors and creators who may be members of the class to consider the implications and make informed decisions.

The settlement agreement is very complex. You may wish to consult a lawyer to examine your own situation. This communication is informational and does not constitute legal advice.

Page maintained by Melissa Smith Levine
Last modified: 08/22/2016