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In 2004, Google, in conjunction with research libraries, began to scan collections of rare books and documents. They had received no permission from copyright holders.
Authors and publishers filed a class action suit alleging copyright infringement.
This week, the proposed Google Books settlement, which was set to end this lawsuit, was rejected by the presiding judge, putting the future of Google Books in question. Here's what happened.
The agreement between the parties dealt primarily with out-of-print books. It allowed Google to continue to scan these books without author approval. In-print books, however, would require explicit permission.
Google would also be permitted to sell ads on book pages, as well as individual access to full books, in exchange for sharing revenue with publishers and authors.
Those who did not wish for their publications to be scanned could opt out.
This opt out provisions was the central reason for the rejection of the Google Books settlement.
In terms of copyright, the automatic opt in provision allowed blanket publication of material. The court found this provision to be troubling in that it releases the rights of copyright holders without explicit permission, which is counterproductive and counterintuitive to current intellectual property law.
The court also took issue with the antitrust implications of the Google Books settlement. If approved, it would grant Google a de facto monopoly in the digital books market. Moreover, it would contribute significantly to Google's dominance in the search industry.
This does not mean that Google Books will disappear. The company has reached dozens of smaller agreements to provide content, so some books will still remain. Additionally, the parties can return to court with a new settlement, which is likely since both parties are committed to a solution.
At this point, it's just a matter of waiting.