Google provides opt-out for publishers

Google is tweaking its Google Print program so that publishers can choose not to have their books scanned by the company for a limited period.

Google will stop scanning copyrighted library books for several months to give publishers a chance to inform it which of their books they do and don't want scanned, the company announced last week.

The move is a reaction to criticism from book publishers that feel Google is bypassing them and their copyrights with the library portion of its Google Print program, in which the company is scanning books from five major libraries. Google's stated goal for the entire program is to make searchable the full text of as many of the world's books as possible.

"This is not meant to be our final response," said Adam Smith, Google senior business product manager, in an interview Friday. "We're absolutely continuing to talk with publishers, authors and users." He described the ongoing discussions as a "collective effort" to balance the needs of the different parties involved.

The company announced the move on its official company blog on its Web site late Thursday night at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/. Entitled "Making books easier to find," the blog was posted by Google's Smith.

Google is hoping that most publishers and authors will want to have their books in Google Print so that their contents are fully searchable by anyone at the company's Web site. "But we know that not everyone agrees, and we want to do our best to respect their views too," Smith wrote in his blog. "So now, any and all copyright holders -- both Google Print partners and non-partners -- can tell us which books they'd prefer that we not scan if we find them in a library."

Google committed to not scanning any in-copyright books into Google Print from now until Nov. 1 to allow publishers time to review the options, Smith said. He described the freeze as a "slight pause," and stressed that in the meantime the company is continuing to scan books already in the public domain.

Should an author or publisher discover one of their titles has already been copied by Google under the library portion of Google Print and alerts Google that they don't want that book copied, the company "will take the title out of Google," Smith said.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP), the national trade organization of the U.S. book publishing industry, reacted swiftly to the news. "We think this knocks the notion of copyright on its head," said Patricia Schroeder, AAP president and chief executive officer. "It sets a terrible precedent."

Google is forcing the onus of preventing copyright infringement onto the copyright owner, not the user, she said. Schroeder foresees her members having to spend all their time checking to see whether Google has copied their titles without their permission from library copies of their books.

"I've never seen our members so solidified," Schroeder said. "Publishers and authors are investment bankers in copyright. There's great alarm among our members."

What's shocking to Schroeder is that when Google first kicked off Google Print with its Google Print Publisher Program in October 2004, the company "did everything right," going to each publisher and asking which books they wanted digitized and which they didn't subject to an agreement or license.

But then Google established what was supposed to be a complementary program, its Google Print Library Project, in December of that year. The AAP questions what value there was in the previous Publisher Program as the library project had Google committing to digitizing library copies of all books without publishers' prior agreement. Smith insists that the Publisher Program is still very much alive. Publishers now have the additional option, for their books already digitized under the Google Print Library Project, of transferring those titles into the Publisher Program, he said.

So far, Google has limited its work with libraries to five facilities -- the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, The New York Public Library and Oxford University. However, Smith revealed that the company is in talks with additional libraries, mostly international libraries. The ultimate aim of Google Print is to make all the world's books searchable, so that means "all languages and all countries," he said.

While users will be able to view the full text of books in the public domain, Google has continually stated that users will only have access to a few sentences of copyrighted books.

There's also the issue of "fair use," according to the AAP's Schroeder, which is usually defined in relation to educational or non-profit usage, not in terms of usage by a huge corporate commercial entity like Google.

"I believe that what we're doing is within the provisions of fair use and the principles of underlying copyright law," Google's Smith said. The company's aim with Google Print is to "give greater exposure to books and to sell more books," he added.

The AAP's opposition to the way the Google Print programs are developing shouldn't be seen as some sort of "Flat Earth" approach, she stressed. Publishers are keen to move further into the digital age, she insisted. "We're working just as hard as Google" [on that front], she said.

This isn't the first time publishers have tussled with Google. In May of this year, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), a group of non-profit scholarly publishers, sent Google a letter asking for clarification on the Google Print Library Project and expressing concerns over possible misuse of their copyrighted content.

Technically, Google Print (http://print.google.com/) remains in beta, but the service went live at launch in October and has been accepting submissions ever since. Smith refused to comment on when Google Print might exit beta testing. "I'm unable to say when it will come out," he said. "The project is still in the very early stages." Nor would Smith be drawn on the number of books Google has digitized to date.

Online reseller Amazon.com Inc. launched its "search inside" feature for books back in 2003 and today makes content searchable from hundreds of thousands of books. While Amazon uses the search feature to sell more books, Google Print is designed to boost Google's online advertising revenue stream.

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