Google's Book deal is so controversial it makes fascinating news every time the story takes another turn. But for Google, things have just turned pretty sour: Due to huge legal pressure, it's chopping foreign texts from the archive.
Google published its revised settlement terms on the deal this past Friday just before midnight, and while it's not a coup de grâce for Books itself, it's a massive concession to the numerous foreign governments and bodies that have been calling for changes to the allegedly wicked financial deal Google managed to finesse through the courts.
As a result of the changes, Google Books will not contain foreign-language books. Only texts published within the U.K., Australia, Canada, and those that fall under U.S. copyright will be part of the digital archive. There's more, too: Named plaintiffs in the settlement now include authors in the U.K., Australia, and Canada, who'll gain representation by the Book Rights Registry Board in order to acquire their share of cash from Google. The Rights Registry is also required to actually seek out authors "who have not yet come forward" from now on--it's amazing that this wasn't the case beforehand. The modified deal even adds a legal representative for unclaimed or "orphan" books; the rep is charged with protecting author's rights. Also in the deal is more scope for authors who want their books to be available for free (rather than sold via Google's partner companies) and who wish to tag them with creative commons or other licenses.
That all sounds about right. Google's original deal to get the Books service working--while trumpeted by the search company as being amazingly progressive and good for education, humankind, and the future and history of the written word--was seen to be a weasely-worded trick that effectively gave Google carte blanche to do what ever it wished with millions of published texts. The fact it was a U.S.-based settlement that covered books published everywhere also raised the ire of authors and rights bodies outside the U.S. Those people will no doubt be satisfied at the changes. The fact that the deal has now been gutted, refined, and injected with considerable amounts of fairness should also please pretty much everyone with a vested interest in Books.
There is a downside, though: For those thinkers who champion Books as being indicative of the future for publishing (including Google, which is reportedly still "very excited" about it all) the lack of foreign texts will be a blow. Think of all those potentially useful, interesting, historic texts that won't be available now. Still, que sera sera, eh?