Google has settled lawsuits brought against it by major publishers and authors that argued that Google's wholesale scanning and indexing of in-copyright books without permission amounted to massive copyright violations.
The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and Google announced the settlement on Tuesday.
The lawsuits were brought after Google launched a program to scan and index books from the libraries of major universities without always getting permission from the copyright owners of the books.
Google then made the text of the books searchable on its book search engine, although it argued it was protected by the fair use principle because it only showed snippets of text for in-copyright books it had scanned without permission.
The settlement comes after two years of negotiations and resolves a class-action lawsuit brought by book authors and the Authors Guild, as well as a separate lawsuit filed by five large publishers as representatives of the AAP's membership, Google and publisher groups said.
The settlement must still be approved by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said during a press conference that the settlement could be considered "the biggest book deal in US publishing industry."
Despite their deep disagreements over copyright law, the publishers, authors and Google recognized that finding a middle ground would allow them to accomplish things that would be out of their reach individually, Aiken said.
"For the sake of this agreement, we were all able to set our differences aside," he said, adding that all parties involved, including readers, will benefit from the settlement because books will be easier to discover and acquire.
The wide-ranging agreement calls for Google to pay US$125 million and in exchange gives the search giant rights to display chunks of these in-copyright books, not just snippets. This will result in broader exposure for out-of-print books that are, by definition, hard to find.
In addition, Google will make it possible for people to buy online access to these books. The agreement will also allow institutions to buy subcriptions to books and make them available to their constituents.
A royalty system will also be set up to compensate authors and publishers for access to their works via the creation of the independent, nonprofit Book Rights Registry. Revenue will come from institutional subscriptions, book sales and ad-revenue sharing.
This organization will also be tasked with locating and registering copyright owners, who in turn have the option to request to be included in or excluded from the project.