Sara Paretsky’s Blog

Your copyrights and google
January 16, 2009, 7:16 pm
Filed under: reading

In 2004, Google made arrangements with the University of Michigan to digitize their entire library, some seven or eight million volumes.  Google planned to make this library available to the public, presumably for some kind of fee.  In exchange, the university would get a copy of the digital library.  And writers and publishers were not considered part of the exchange at all.


The Author’s Guild did heroic battle on all our behalfs and reached a settlement with Google.  The settlement runs to 375 pages so I won’t try to go into details; you can get them at the Author’s Guild website.  In a nutshell, though, the Guild is setting up, with the American Association of Publishers and with Google, a Book Rights Repository (BRR), which will be the legal entity charged with making sure that writers are paid for the use of their  books.  Every writer, whether a member of the Guild or not, should create an account with the BRR.  This account will make it possible for you to manage your books and to submit claims for royalties.


You may also choose whether or not to let your books be sold through Google’s electronic database.  If your book(s) are out of print, the default setting is that you allow their sale.  If your book(s) are in print, the default setting is that you do NOT allow their sale.  You manage all this through your BRR entry.  In-print books include self-published, or electronically published books as well as paper titles released through a publishing company.,


There is no master list of books that Google has digitized; you have to submit a claim through your BRR account, and the BRR staff will see that you get paid if improper use has been made of your material.


There are a lot of details about how royalties are assessed, how you work with your publisher, and so on, that I don’t have at my fingertips, but to set up an account, go to    The site will step you through the process.


10 Comments so far
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I just read an article in The Guardian that in the UK, authors receive an annual royalty–teeny tiny, but actual money–based on the number of times their books have been checked out of libraries in the prior year. Wouldn’t that be awesome!

ps-I’m really liking Alchemy. Thanks for sharing it with us

Comment by Cat

Who would be paying the authors for the use of books over the Internet?

Comment by ab

Cat, thanks–I’m glad you like Alchemy==I need to get back to it!

AB–your question has a two-part answer. Google has agreed to pay a settlement of something like 125 million for books it has already sold. This money goes to the Book Rights Repository. When you file a claim, the BRR checks to see if your book was sold by Google and then they reimburse you according to some formula that I don’t know.
The second part is post-settlement. When you register your books, you personally decide on a reasonable online price. If Google sells the book, they share out the money with the BRR, which then retains a small percentage as an administrative fee and turns the rest over to your publisher, who pays you according to the terms of your current contract. The actual percentages should be available on the Author’s Guild website, or the registration website.

Comment by saraparetsky

Thanks for the clarification, Sara. First Google gets paid, then the BRR (small percentage), then the publisher, THEN the author – sounds very familiar! I always felt I’m the last in the food chain.

I wonder how Google got the notion in the first place that it can sell people’s copyrighted books. And I have to find out if my German editions are somehow involved in this. Probably not.

Comment by ab

Oh my – there a time limits, too!

Comment by ab

Yes, it’s important to pay attention to the time limits. And you should register your editions from the original country of publication, because they may be in the Library of Congress, and I think Google ultimately plans to gobble up the whole of the printed universe.

Comment by saraparetsky

Luckily (!) I’m not a published author. It’s beginning to feel a bit like Arthur Dent must have felt when he found his house was about to be demolished, and hadn’t he seen the planning application? You need to be alert.

Comment by bookwitch

How right Sara … and further to having gobbled up the whole of the digital universe …
It is indeed upsetting on several accounts and one has to be very vigilant. I am writing a radio play at the moment and I plan to embark on the long journey of novel writing once I’m through with the play. I genuinely (candidly ?!) feel that the writer is doing the hardest job. But I guess it’s like any form of art, you’re supposed to do it in your spare time and be sufficiently rewarded by the thrill of seeing your work in print … Not fair !

Comment by Pascale

Yes, writing is not “working”. Maya Angelou wrote an article in Washington Post concerning Michelle Obama, and there were so many sour, venomous comments. A few of them from people “who are actually working for a living”.

I feel genuinely threatened by this. Maybe Google should just employ every author – for a peanut salary, of course. They could put us in camps or something. We have to start an underground movement!

Comment by ab

Darn – now I am angry, too. It’s like having someone saying: “If you don’t say no before May 5th, we’ll take your money.”

Comment by ab

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