Before authors and publishers filed their groundbreaking lawsuits, Google was on a path to scan millions of copyrighted books without compensating authors or publishers, or even considering their interests as the creators of this vast repository of intellectual property. The lawsuits derailed the Google Express and brought it to the negotiating table. The result is the historic class action settlement, which, if approved by the court, offers the best opportunity for book publishing to confront the digital world without suffering the fate of the newspaper industry.

The complexity of the settlement—a 334-page legal document—has understandably generated a lot of buzz. In particular, groups that advocate weakening copyright in the digital environment are trying to organize opposition. Shockingly, however, even many people in book publishing have been indifferent to or skeptical about the Google settlement when they should be embracing its possibilities. Indeed, this magazine recently reported an unattributed and uninformed prediction that the settlement was “going to die.” Now, with a court date around the corner, publishers of every stripe—large, small, trade, scholarly, academic—should stand up and defend it from critics and tout its enormous potential benefit for us, as well as for authors, readers, researchers, libraries and the public at large.

It's time to set the record straight.

The settlement vindicates the fundamental principle of book publishing: no one may reproduce a work without the copyright holder's consent. That statement seems obvious to anyone who knows anything about copyright. Without the lawsuit, Google would have presented copyright owners with the fait accompli of tens of millions of books already scanned. From that advantageous position, Google could have argued that traditional copyright had to bend to its new digital reality, and publishers and authors could have lost all control of their works in the digital world.

The settlement redirects Google's path. By entering into the agreement, Google acknowledged it must have the consent of publishers and authors. Looking forward, the settlement gives copyright owners the right to choose which of their books may be included in Google's digital repository, and to control how their works may be displayed, which programs may include them and at what price they may be sold.

The settlement will also give us a brand- new nonprofit, independent Book Rights Registry to aggregate a reliable database of works and their rights holders. It will give new commercial life to millions of books that are not now commercially available. It will open up potential new markets for our books, making them accessible, searchable and available to an Internet audience larger than any in our dreams. People all over the country, from large cities to the smallest towns, will have access to the riches of some of the best academic libraries in the country.

Compare the business model emerging from the settlement with the current state of the newspaper business. Ten years ago the newspapers faced a crossroad. Seeking to harness the power of the Internet, they decided essentially to give away valuable content without a viable business model to recover compensation for that content. As a consequence, we now see well-established and prestigious newspapers across the country in economic meltdown. In contrast, the Google settlement preserves the value of book content and provides copyright owners with multiple ways to recover the value they created.

If the settlement is not approved by the court, authors and publishers face years of continued litigation and the serious risk of widespread free distribution of copyrighted material. The agreement is a victory for our industry and the reading public.

If digital is “where it's at,” as all the reports from BookExpo America indicate, then the Google book settlement has set publishers on a journey where no other content industry has gone before. It will breathe new digital life into literally millions of books already published—without sacrificing the ability of authors and publishers to control and receive compensation for their use.

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Author Information
Tom Allen is a former six-term congressman from Maine and became president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers in April 2009.