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Authors Guild defends Google Books settlement

June 25, 2009 |  2:00 pm
Roy Blount Jr
Authors Guild President Roy Blount Jr. speaks out in favor of the Google books settlement. Credit: Valerie Shaff.

The Authors Guild, which hasn't said much since last fall after it settled its lawsuit with Google over the search company's book scanning project, today issued a statement defending the settlement against recent criticism.

Specifically, the letter by author and Guild President Roy Blount Jr. addresses the topic of orphan books, which are works that are out-of-print and unclaimed by any copyright holders. You can read the entire letter here.

The concern is that Google, having digitized millions of such books, would have a monopoly on them should the settlement be approved by a federal judge later this year. That's because the settlement lets Google use orphan works without first getting approval from their authors. The Justice Department has reportedly started an inquiry into these antitrust concerns but has not said whether it has launched a formal investigation.

The number of orphans is tough to nail down. Some estimate it's 50% to 70% of all books published after 1923. Paul Aiken, executive director of the Guild, said that's hogwash.

"Our experience is that we can find upwards of 80% of rights holders once an effort is made," Aiken said in an interview.

In his letter, Blount argues that the number of orphan books, whatever it may be, will diminish over time as rights holders come forward to claim the money that Google will be obligated to set aside for authors for a period of five years and held in escrow by a newly created entity called the Book Rights Registry.

"As the registry starts sending out royalty checks, books will exit the orphanage in a rush," Blount wrote. "Nothing gets an author's attention like a royalty check. It's not an orphan-books problem that this settlement presents. It's an orphan-books solution."

-- Alex Pham