Google Print and Writer’s Rights

There’s no doubt about it – Google is big. The search engine has an amazing series of features and racks up income like nobody’s business. Who hasn’t used the phrase, “Google it” to mean searching? Right now, though, the Internet Giant is under serious attack; lawsuits are piling up over the Google Print Initiative, and there’s several good reasons for writers to care.

What Is the Google Print Initiative?

Despite lawsuits hitting them from both authors and publishers over questionable copyright violation tactics, Google is moving full ahead with their Print Project, an ambitious initiative to digitize the world’s book collection and offer the index online.

In October of 2004, Google introduced its Google Print Service – later named the Google Book Search or the Google Print Initiative – at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Essentially, what it’s about is that Google scans and stores the full text of complete books and stores it in a digital database that users can search. The way that this will work can be seen with their current “Image Search” function: when keywords to a user’s search unearth relevant book text, up to three results from the Google Book Search index are displayed above search results. Alternatively, users can just search for books at the dedicated Google Book Search service.

Clicking a result from the Book Search opens a new page which allows the user to view pages from the book in their entirety, as well as access content-related advertisements and links to booksellers.

Supposedly, theft will be prevented through a variety of limitations and security measures that include disabling copy, paste, and print functions and by limiting the number of pages viewed by a user to 20 percent per month.

As of December 2005, the service remains in a “beta”, or testing, stage – but the database it uses is continuing to grow, with more than a hundred thousand titles added by publishers and authors, and some 10,000 works in the public domain now indexed and included in search results. Their ultimate goal is to have approximately 15 million volumes fully digitized within the next decade.

Google and its advocates argue that Google’s plan to copy entire books unless copyright holders opt out is an extension of “fair use”. At the current time, the Google Library Project (an extension of the book search) has digitized the library collections of the








, The New York Public Library, and



. Under the plan they currently operate with, Google doesn’t ask for permission to copy and share these copyrighted texts. Instead, they require publishers and authors to contact Google and opt out of the program.

The Controversy, and Why You Might Care

Outside of the library scanning that Google is doing, publishers and individual authors can choose to participate in the program. This allows the publisher to make all, none, or some of their titles available for online searches. Keep in mind, too, that if you are a published author and don’t own electronic rights to your work, this decision isn’t up to you.

In response to the lawsuits claiming that the copying of copyrighted texts is illegal, Google has said that they copy entire works for search purposes only – but limit access to the end user. Currently, Google has offered the following guidelines:

  • Works in the Public Domain: Users can read the entire book.
  • In-copyright books in the Google Library Project: Users can view the bibliographic information and a few short sentences of text.
  • Publisher-submitted books: Users can view several pages around where the search term is found.

So Google is copying every single page of the book you labored on and offering it up to users for free, but they’re only displaying a little bit of that work to users. What’s the big deal?

First of all, it centers on money. The amount of advertising dollars already pouring into the beta-testing program are astronomical, and there is no way of ensuring that those ads will benefit publishers in any way. Google is promising that it will share profits with publishers and authors, but it’s unclear how they intend to accomplish that.

Security is another huge issue. If your entire book is stored in Google’s database, the entire program could become a huge infringement engine. Think that software companies are fighting an uphill battle against hackers that pirate movies and music? If text is freely available through a huge search engine, how many books are going to suddenly become “free trade”? And Google cannot – and does not even try – to promise that their protections will work. After all, even if someone can’t copy-paste or print a page, what’s stopping them from doing a “Print Screen” or simply saving the entire web page? Software already exists that can circumvent the measures Google has proposed as security – and with their continued push, those tools will only get better and more targeted.

What Can You Do?

The Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers have individually sued Google, citing “Massive copyright infringement”. Individual publishers and dozens of authors have followed their lead, and lawsuits are piling up.

Without stepping into the courtroom, here are some steps you can take:

  • Find out who has the online rights to your work. If you have the online electronic rights (most older contracts didn’t include handing over these rights to publishers, while most newer ones do), contact Google and let them know if you want to opt-out of this program. Authors whose publishers own the rights should contact the publisher directly and find out what options they have.
  • Stay informed. Right now, the security measures that Google has proposed are far from fail-safe. You might be better off keeping your work out of the program at least until you feel sure that the security measures will work.
  • Consider joining forces with advocacy groups like the Authors Guild and work on the demands that Google explain fully how they plan to operate and what forms of royalties will be paid to authors and publishers whose work is viewed online.
  • Beef up on knowledge. Understand the difference between copyright and public domain, and what “fair use” means. Knowledge is power – clichÃ?© but very true.
  • Learn about other Digital Library Projects. Most digital library projects use only public domain texts, while all others (Google being the glaring exception) ask for permission to use copyrighted text.

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