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Canadian writers, publishers gather to consider Google book digitization

Canadian publishers and authors have been gathering at workshops to explore the legal ramifications of internet giant Google's massive book-digitization initiative.

Canadian publishers and authors have been gathering at workshops to explore the legal ramifications of internet giant Google's massive book-digitization initiative.

The sessions are being held in advance of the May 5 deadline for authors and publishers to opt out of Google's plan to digitize 20 million books and distribute them online and to new devices.

Google began its digitizing project in 2005, with the Authors Guild of America accusing the company of "massive copyright infringement" and spearheading a class-action lawsuit against it. The company is digitizing books regardless of copyright, but only displaying snippets of those not yet in the public domain, claiming "fair use."

In October, however, the two sides reached a complex, out-of-court settlement, which includes the company paying a minimum $60 US per work to the rights holders of the approximately seven million books already scanned.

The settlement also details how Google will offer registered authors 63 per cent of potential sales, subscription and ad revenues of the digitized works.

"They're not selling [the digitized books] yet. I think, down the road, that's what their intention is," Wayne Grady, chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, told CBC News. "I mean why wouldn't it be?"

The union has recommended that authors accept the settlement deal, which if approved by a U.S. court, will apply to writers in more than 200 countries, including Canada.

'Tremendous opportunity'

"I think it's a tremendous opportunity," said author Penney Kome, who says the initiative will help give people around the globe better access to books.

"The ambition to control all of the world's information is certainly cause for concern, but the internet will have all the information in the world on it one way or another," Kome said after watching a session about the settlement in Toronto.

However, Katherine Gordon is among the 18 Canadian writers so far who have chosen to opt out, which allows them to launch a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google if their books are digitized without their permission.

"When I had even a very cursory look at it, in the first instance the alarm bells started ringing very, very loudly," Gordon said.

"Google has already illegally digitized many books. How can we trust they're not going to take every advantage, to digitize books without telling authors, without paying them the money?"

Gordon added that other authors she's canvassed are not yet informed about the details of the deal.

"Their automatic response almost every time is: 'What do you mean by the Google book settlement?'" she said.

Last week, Google announced it would make 500,000 digitized books — all published before 1923 and no longer protected by copyright — available for free on Sony's e-book device.

In February, the company made 500,000 digitized public-domain books available to Canadian mobile devices like smart phones. More than one million titles are available in the U.S. because of differing copyright laws.

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