A bit more on the Google book scan project, from which I quoted a comical except a few days ago.

There is a lot of discussion about this among authors, particularly those with out of print books, like my book on Carroll's private bank account.

Basically, is Google going to take over the written word? I received a huge load of legal stuff from my agent about the class action being prepared in the US. He told me reassuringly that he'll deal with it all when the time comes.

But a legally minded colleague, Clive Henry, had a look over the papers. He's not a lawyer but he is used to interpreting legal documents. This is what he said - in sensible English, hurrah! (and with the usual disclaimers). It made it seem a lot clearer. Thanks for permission to quote this, Clive.

Google are digitising millions of books, most of which are out-of-print books, and the heart of the settlement relates to these out-of-print books. But also includes public domain books, and in-print books.

A Books Rights Registry will be set up to administer and arbitrate where questions and conflict arises. The Registry will manage and distribute royalties as required.

Google have no verbatim right to infringe copyright. They want to allow users to search and view 'snippets' of a given title and, hopefully, purchase an online version of the book (although eventually it will mean on-demand printing and on-line).

Advertising - revenues will be allocated and shared amongst interested parties i.e. publisher and author. Say a book has an indexer, author, illustrator, photographer, and there is no quorum between these parties, the Registry has an arbitration procedure.

Also Google will make an institutional product available i.e. libraries/universities can search and read and print from given titles on a license basis. There are four lines of revenue initially (although Google are looking for other sources of revenue:

1. Institutional licensing
2. Purchase of on-line editions
3. Advertising (there is a distinction with advertising - let's say you are on the general 'search' page of this Google product and advertisements display. All revenues from this go to Google. An author only make revenue from advertising when the user clicks to specific content of the book. Then the meter starts running).
4. Printing from public access terminals

Individual licensing is inevitable in time (akin to institutional licensing, but now for the consumer at home).

The author has the right to opt out of the agreement - in writing. If one's agent is half decent at the job, this agreement will not cause any difficulty. Although every writer needs to be aware of its consequences and where this will lead the industry as a whole. This is the beginning of a revolution.

This does give out-of-print books, and their writers, a second chance. However, say you have a 20-year old, out-of-print book - are you happy to give licencees full read-access to a digital copy of your book? Do you want them to be able to purchase a digital copy? And print pages from the contents?

I am not sure a UK class action suit will be necessary as I doubt the provisions of the settlement would be changed much. Especially given that an edition of one's book may be published in the US under US copyright law and thus may come under the auspice of the Google settlement. Again, one may opt out of the agreement.

There are various timelines regarding this. Certainly, you cannot come along to Google 20 years after your book is digitised and decide to remove a title.

Google will digitise in-print books for research and search purposes, although the contents will not be displayed to the end user.

The settlement is not perfect, but how could such a complex thing be perfect with so many diverse interests i.e. Google, advertisers, libraries, publishers, authors, artists, illustrators, photographers etc.

Overall this is a reasonable agreement. But questions do arise. For example, security i.e. purchasing on-line editions and copying of digital copies in the same way music is pirated. Also, printing in public access areas. How well policed will this be? Another is, how do you define an in-print or out-of-print book? This is not always easy.

The bottom line is - does one consider this as having nuisance value only? Or is it a new revenue channel for publishers' dust gathering backlists and authors' forgotten about gems?