Google has reached an agreement with France's largest publishing company, Hachette Libre. The agreement will allow Google to digitize and scan books from Hachette's library of copyrighted but out-of-print texts, The New York Times reported.
The Google-Hachette Agreement
There are three major categories of books, as far as publication rights are concerned: out of print and out of copyright ("public domain"), out of print but in copyright, and in print and in copyright. The middle category is a bleak wasteland of legally grey territory that Google Books has been trying to navigate for the better part of a decade.
In France, they've finally won an ally. Hachette Livre, the publishing company that holds a quarter of the French market, signed an agreement with Google to digitize and sell a variety of out-of-print works. The condition is that Hachette will be able to select which works will be digitized.
Hachette will be making the digitized books available to the national library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) and other libraries. Meanwhile, Google is looking to establish similar deals with other French publishers, according to Simon Morrison, a Google copyright policy and communications manager.
Google's Struggles with Stateside Publishers
Google has been unable to win such deals with U.S. publishers, and is currently involved in litigation with the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild. Google and the aforementioned groups have been working on a settlement for six years now, but their attempted settlements have all been rejected. In July, the judge in the case set a deadline of Sept. 15 for all sides to get a deal done.
Part of the reason is that Google is unwilling to give U.S. publishers the same deal they gave to Hachette: While Hachette is able to opt-in (selecting which works are digitized and made available), Google's current deal in the U.S. is an opt-out arrangement (authors or publishers must specifically tell Google not to digitize something, or it will be added to the Google library).
Google cites one big setback created by an opt-in system: "Orphan works," or novels whose copyright holder isn't clear, would likely never be digitized and thus may be lost completely.