Why Hollywood should care about the Google book settlement

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Why Hollywood should care about the Google book settlement

Mon May 04, 2009 @ 12:33PM PST

By Eriq Gardner


Screenplay We wonder if Hollywood lawyers should be paying more attention to the fate of a controversial settlement between Google, book publishers, and authors.

Last October, the parties announced they had agreed to settle a major class action lawsuit over Google's ambitious project to digitize books from some of the biggest university libraries into a searchable user database. After Google consented to pay $125 million — with part of the money going to plaintiffs and the rest going to a new organization similar to ASCAP that would potentially represent publishers and authors in digital rights deals — attention turned to whether the New York District Court would bless the settlement. 

Recently, things picked up steam when the Department of Justice announced it would investigate the deal to make sure it wasn't violating antitrust laws, and the NY District Court judge announced he was granting an additional four months (until September) so that class members could file any objections. 

So how is Hollywood involved?

Over the weekend, the National Music Publishers Association and the Harry Fox Agency put out an advisory to its members, reminding everybody that a book of sheet music is, in fact, a "book." This less-than-shocking conclusion might be obvious, but up until now there's been hardly any discussion about how the rights of songwriters will be implicated by this settlement. The NMPA and HFA recommended that music publishers and songwriters review their catalog and licensing arrangements because the Google Book Settlement may have the potential to interfere.

If sheet music is involved, we're betting that Hollywood screenplays and television scripts will also qualify under the terms of the settlement. According to the Settlement-Agreement, anything that is published or distributed, registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and is subject to a U.S. copyright interest is indeed implicated in the agreement.

The entertainment industry has zealously guarded its digital rights against possible intruders (see the YouTube case), but we've heard virtually no talk about what everyone is doing to respond to the Google Books settlement.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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