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Orphan Works bill status

Tom Richmond has posted an email he’s received from the Board of the Illustrators’ Partnership on the status of the Orphan Works bill and the implications on how the lawsuits against Google for it’s digitizing books will affect copyright law.

In 2004, the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers sued Google for copyright infringement. Last October the parties settled. The resulting agreement is 141 pages long, with 15 appendices of 179 pages. The implications for copyright holders are not clear, but what the litigants would get is breathtaking. As Lynn Chu, a principal at Writers Representatives LLC, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2009:

“[I]f approved by the federal court, [it would] permit Google to post out-of-print books for reading, sales, institutional licensing, ad sales, and other publishing exploitations, by Google, online. The settlement gives the class-action attorneys $30 million; a new, quasi-judicial bureaucracy called the Book Rights Registry $35 million…and $45 million for owners infringed up to now – about $60 a title.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819841868261921.html

Google would keep just over a third of the profits generated by selling these books online. The rest would go to the Book Rights Registry run by publishers’ and authors’ representatives. In other words, 63% would go to the parties that sued Google. In theory, the Registry would attempt to locate the authors of orphaned works and pay them royalties. But as Ms. Chu points out, the parties that sued Google – and would therefore benefit from Google’s infringement – have themselves traded away other people’s rights in the bargain:

Read the whole thing over on Tom’s blog

Community Comments

#1 Mike Peterson
September/25/2009
@ 11:00 am

I’ll be interested in reading more on this, but (as reported) it doesn’t have much to do with Orphan Works. In particular, I hope any future comparisons break down the books Google has digitalized by whether they are pre- or post-1923, since much of what is in their collection is far out of copyright and shouldn’t be included in any statistical discussions.

Once that glitch is out of the mix, I’d also want to know how many books Google has posted which did not include information on who wrote them, since I very much doubt that they have digitalized much of anything that would qualify as an “Orphan Work” — given that, if I write something for a magazine that doesn’t get a byline, it didn’t amount to much and I don’t expect to ever see any big reprint rights check. Illustration work can be different, I understand.

(And, for the record, I think that Google Books is guilty of a lot of theft. Just not the same kind as envisioned in the OWA.)

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