A sweeping $125 million settlement between Google Inc. and the publishing industry clears the way for the Internet giant to make many millions of digital books available on the Web, with payments to authors and publishers for their use.
If approved by a federal court, the deal, struck after two years of negotiations, will let individuals and institutions buy online access to copyrighted, out-of-print works through Google, and will provide free online views of them at public libraries.
Titles that are still in print will be available only if publishers and authors agree to include them.
"It may be the biggest book deal in U.S. history," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. Google has already scanned seven million books for its Google Book Search program and plans to make many millions more available. Only Web users in the U.S. will have access to the new services.
The settlement resolves a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Google filed by the Authors Guild more than three years ago in U.S. District Court in New York, as well as a separate suit filed by the Association of American Publishers on behalf of five leading publishers.
Terms call for Google to pay $125 million to settle claims from authors and publishers for its earlier digital-scanning efforts, cover legal fees and establish a Book Rights Registry that will oversee the new accord.
The establishment of a registry will enable rights holders -- be they publishers or authors -- to register their works and subsequently receive payment when their titles are used online.
"What this does is breathe new life into millions of books without jeopardizing rights holders," said Richard Sarnoff, chairman of the Association of American Publishers and co-chairman of Bertelsmann Inc., the U.S. holding company of Bertelsmann AG. Books under copyright but out of print will be available for sale in an online version unless the rights holder objects.
The deal signals that Google, which has long argued it can index content for its search engine without the cooperation of media companies, is taking a more conciliatory stance. But Google cautions against applying the same model to similar disputes, including Viacom Inc.'s $1 billion copyright-infringement suit against Google's online-video service YouTube.
"I would not read anything into the structure," said David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer.
With the agreement, Google is taking a rare step into the business of selling access to media content. Google will enhance its book-search product, which has struggled to gain traction, with a storefront where consumers can buy titles to read online.
Prices will be set by the publisher or by a Google-designed algorithm, with the rights holder getting 63% and Google getting 37% of the revenue.
The move breaks with Google's usual approach of selling advertising against digital content and sharing that revenue with partners like newspapers and media companies. It also brings Google into potential competition with digital-book retailers like Amazon.com Inc.
"It's a new model for us," said Mr. Drummond, who nonetheless played down any competition with Amazon, noting that Google's main objective is to build a better search product.
Public libraries will be offered a free online portal to view the digitized titles, while colleges and universities will be offered a subscription-fee service that will enable students to access these books directly from their dorm rooms.
The registry to determine payments to authors and publishers will be an independent board, initially appointed half by the Authors Guild and half by the Association of American Publishers. Like Ascap in the music business, it will track which titles are used by various institutions.
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