Writers and the Google Book Settlement

Are you a published writer? Have you written a book published before May 5, 2009, or had a short story included in such a book? Have you written an introduction or preface or other ‘insert’ for a published book? Are you the translator of a book? Are you a small press publisher, here in the US or outside the US? Are you the heir of a writer who wrote books published before May 5, 2009?

Then you need to educate yourself about the Google Book Settlement. Because it concerns you. 

I am NOT an expert in this. I am finding my way through the Google Book Settlement maze one step at a time. I am not offering advice in what you should do, or how you should do it. I am distressed at the number of my writer friends who are completely unaware of the Google Book Settlement. So I am trying to put the word out to other writers that they need to look into this. 

You can read about it here: That’s the notice in a pdf file.  I recommend you download it, save it, and read it.

Too lazy to read all that? Here is the story, in brief. Google scanned several libraries full of books. Good intention: to make the books in the library easily available to the public. Bad side effect: they scanned copyrighted current works as well as old, public domain, out of print books. They did not ask permission of any of the copyright holders. Authors Guild brought legal action to protest this. Publishers were unhappy.  Google has offered an out of court settlement, without acknowledging any wrong-doing. The settlement has a preliminary approval. 

Why do you need to know about this if you are a writer? Because ..May 5, 2009.. is the deadline for you to opt out of being a party to this settlement. If you do not ‘opt out’ then it is considered that you have ‘opted in’ and are accepting the terms of the settlement. 

If you do not ‘opt out’ you lose your option to sue Google for scanning your copyrighted works and making them available. 

Do nothing, and you have opted in. You can’t decide to sue Google later. By not speaking up, you’ve accepted the terms of the settlement.

I know. That seems backwards to me, too. But it is how it is. I will give you a moment to curse at the screen, stomp, go to the website, scowl as you read it, have a hissy fit and then come back. But do come back, as there is more you need to know. 

Okay. Calm now?  Listen. You now need to go to the Google Book Settlement site and register. Give them your basic info, get a user name and make up a password. Then you need to ‘claim’ your books and ‘inserts’.    ‘Claim’ in this sense means that you do a search or list every single book or story you’ve written, and officially ‘claim’ them on the site. ‘Inserts’ are what we would call ‘stories in a book’. Or a preface, foreward, afterword, or other bit of text in a book. Not pictures, unless we are talking about children’s books. Then illustrations count, too. 

Now, after you have claimed them, you have until May 5, 2009 if you want to opt out and keep your right to sue Google intact.

IF you do nothing, you have ‘opted in’. 

IF you register, claim your works, and officially ‘opt in’, then you can actually get a little bit of money out of this. $60 per book, and $15 for stories.   If you opt in, then you have until January 2010 to ‘claim’ your works. You will only get those payments if Google has already scanned your copyrighted book before May 2009. That doesn’t mean Google is going to stop scanning books as of that date. It just means it is only going to give a payment for books it already scanned without permission. 

Now all I’ve given here are the bare bones of things. If you are a writer, I feel you need to inform yourself of what is going on here and make a decision as to what you are going to do. Here is the FAQ Read it all carefully.

This is too big and complicated of a thing for me to cover in a small blog space. But it is important. It is going to affect many people I know. 

So read the settlement. Talk to your publisher, to your agent, to your writers’ organization, to your fellow writers. Opt in, out out, do what you think is best for you. Be aware that your publisher can also opt in or opt out. Find out what is happening. Don’t let this just slide by you, because it does concern you as a writer. 

Find out. Make an educated choice. 

I’m not qualified to answer detailed questions about this. I’m just a writer affected by it. I have a lot of questions of my own, and I’ve submitted them and I’m awaiting answers.  I think this is a Big Deal.  I think if you are a writer, a translator, a publisher, a children’s book illustrator, or the heir of any of the above, then you need to inform yourself about this.

Best of luck.



10 Responses to Writers and the Google Book Settlement

  1. What? That seems ridiculous–copyright is owned by the copyright holder, not something that can disappear if said owner fails to opt out of something. Well, however they’ve managed to work around that, I’m glad that you found out in time and are spreading the word.

  2. Thank you for making this information available on your site. I wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise (not that I’m published yet anyway) and knowledge is definitely powerful.

  3. Mine, too! 🙂

    Not a coincidence. Terie and I share an agent!

    However, I do want to emphasize that I think every author needs to investigate this carefully, read the material, and make a decision. I am NOT an expert on this.


  4. I was so late to the game on paying attention to this, being a big dummy. I am not a writer, but my dad was, and I own his stuff. Need to look into. Dang! I hate almost nothing as much as I hate feeling stolen from.