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All settled? Google Books deadline soon

Google has been making headlines for its new stance on China after re-thinking a censored version of its search engine within China. It's bold dragon-slaying stuff, but there's another Google story that's been bubbling away since 2005. Last week Australia's Copyright Agency (CAL) ran a series of information seminars that told authors how to go register if they wanted their slice of the settlement pie and published their notes online.

The kerfuffle started when the US Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google for its project that aimed to digitise publications for an online library. Google's defence was that their digitisation constituted 'fair use' under US copyright law, though in 2008 offered US$125 million in an out of court settlement.

This will be a one-off payment to rightsholders (usually publishers and authors or their heirs) and asks you to opt-in for future use. It's reminiscent of an episode of The Simpsons where Mr Burns is fined US$3million for polluting which he pays for out of his wallet then says "Oh, and I'll take that statue of justice too."

Still most of those rightsholders could use a chunk of change to help them through rights wrangling of the future. With over US$100million on the table you think you'd need a wheelbarrow to carry home your bucks. Well, not quite.

Turns out just over US$35million will be required to set up a Registry to pay rightholders. This Registry will continue to manage pay outs in the future and will licence content exclusively for Google. If you're paying the kind of money that sounds like a Hollywood film budget to set up an organisation then I guess you'd want that organisation to help you out in the future.

So the agreement guarantees that Google will pay at least US$45 million into a fund for rightholders. I'm not sure what "at least" entails and my maths isn't great but that sounds like almost FIFTY GRAND that's fallen down the back of a couch somewhere. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Google has to pay the plaintiff's legal fees.

So the bottom line for authors? According to the huge settlement doc (download the 170 page doc and sub-files if you have a week off work) it sounds like if you wrote a book and opt-in to continued re-use, a rightsholder will get a one-off payment of at least US$60 plus 63% of the revenue your book attracts in the future. Inserts (articles or short stories) receive a payment of US$15 though there's something called a Partial Insert (defined as "An Insert other than a Partial Insert") that sounds like an unpleasant medical intrusion and attracts a lesser payment.

But wait there's more. Before you use the lavish payment of US$60 to pay the electricity bill, be aware that this money is paid to rightsholders. Some publishers buy up your rights while other share them so this payment may not even get to the scribes that are just about to have their power cut off. And your publisher may have opted in for the partner program which may mean you've already given away your rights.

Still most authors will hit up the settlement registry site to see if anything they've written has been digitised. Some will opt in by the 28th of January deadline, but others won't which could mean that their books will be removed from Google Books. But Google Books will be so huge that some have called it a monopoly particularly for 'orphan works' where no rightsholder can be found.

One author who isn't phased by missing out in Google Books is Ursula Le Guin. She's gone a on a crusade and has amassed a growing petition of more than 300 authors against the settlement. Even if her appeal is unsucessful, there's an excellent fictionalisation that the sci-fi/fantasy author could produce based on a monster that swallows information until only a few heroic authors dare bounce on its belly to get it to cough up more cash.

Disclaimer: Hackpacker is not a lawyer and none of this post constitutes legal advice. Read widely about this issue and seek further legal advice if pain persists.

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