Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More from the Google Library Settlement

I've managed to burrow a bit deeper into the depths of the Dostoyevsky-esque tome that is the Google Library Project settlement (see post below), and offer the following interesting points (references to the Settlement Agreement sections follow in parenthesis):

-- Google will not be printing books nor, apparently, offering downloads to consumers, at least of books that are still protected by copyright (it will continue to offer downloads of public domain books). Instead, a "Consumer Purchase" will permit one to "view, copy/paste and print pages of a Book," with a four-page limit on the copy/paste and a twenty-page limit on the print features. Note that "download" is not among the permitted activities, so consumers will need an active Internet connection to read what they purchase. Printed pages will include both a "visible watermark" that will identify the printed material as copyrighted and will also include encrypted "session identifying information" that is to help identify the user who printed the material. (4.2(a))

Comment: This could be an issue going forward. While electronic book readers are growing in popularity, part of that popularity lies in the ability to use them in places where Internet access is limited (planes, beaches, subways, I-80 through most of the country). The settlement does leave open the possibility that the parties could agree to other distribution methods in the future. But clearly, the publishers aren't interested in handing their core business over to Google.

-- Rightsholders can either specify the price they want Google to charge for access, or allow a yet-to-be-developed-by-Google algorithm that will automatically set the book price (called the "Settlement Controlled Price"). The Settlement Controlled Price algorithm will place the book in one of twelve preset fixed prices for books (called "bins") that begin at $1.99 and end with $29.99. The algorithm will distribute the Settlement Controlled Price books among those twelve bins according to a set percentage books per bin (i.e., 5% of the books Google offers for Consumer Purchase go in to the $1.99 bin; 8% in the $14.99 bin, etc.). 46% of the books so priced are to be available from bins that are priced from $2.99 to $5.99. (4.2(c))

Comment: The concept of a Settlement Controlled Price algorithm is a very "Googly" feature that I'm sure somebody in Google Labs is already digging into. The algorithm is to be designed "to find the optimal . . . price for each Book and, accordingly, to maximize revenue for each Rightsholder." It will be interesting to see whether Google ends up patenting this, or elects to keep it a trade secret. If it works, it could end up being its own profit center, with Google renting out a modified version of the SCP algorithm tailored for regular publishing.

-- The Registry will receive 70% of "Net Purchase Revenues" and "Net Advertising Revenues" from Google. "Net" comes after Google subtracts 10% from the gross revenues to cover its operating expenses. So for every dollar Google grosses from Purchases and Advertising, the Registry receives 63 cents. ([1.00 - .10] x .7 = .63).

Comment: So Google will have to generate about $340 million in purchase and ad revenues to earn back its $125 million investment in this settlement, which doesn't consider those 10% "operating expenses."

-- I'm a bit confused by this one: In 3.10(c)(iii), Google is prohibited from displaying "on, behind or over the contents of a Book or portion thereof," including Preview Use pages, "any pop-up, pop-under, or any other types of advertisements or content of any kind." That said, 3.14 then permits Google to "display advertisements on Preview Use pages and other Online Book Pages." If I figure it out I will update this.

-- Google has some rights to add hyperlinks to book texts: it can link from one part of a book to another part of the same book; it can link from the book to an "online version of an external source cited" in a footnote, endnote, or biliography; and it can link to a URL that is included in the book text. (3.10(c))

-- Provided the Rightsholder does not object, Google can enable a "Book Annotation" feature that will allow users to make notes associated with the book for the user's personal use, and to share those notes with a limited number of other users. (3.10(c)).

Comment: The Book Annotation feature could be great for collaborative endeavors such as research projects, study groups, book clubs, and cellularly-distributed underground radical organizations bent on Ending Civilization as We Know It. I'm sure the NSA is on it, though, so no worries there.

This settlement has been meticulously crafted; it is a very impressive document, and reflects what must have been an enormous amount of work and a shared willingness to come to a creative solution among all of the parties involved.

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