The Authors Guild hasn't said much since it settled its lawsuit last fall with Google Inc. over the search company's book-scanning project, but it defended the settlement Thursday against recent criticism.
In a letter, author and guild President Roy Blount Jr. said the settlement should be approved because it would ultimately help to find authors of so-called orphan books, which are works that are out of print and unclaimed by any copyright holders.
The concern over Google's project is that, having scanned millions of such books, the company would have a monopoly on them should the settlement be approved by a federal judge later this year.
That's because the settlement lets Google use orphan works without first getting approval from their authors. The Justice Department has reportedly started an inquiry into these antitrust concerns but has not said whether it has launched a formal investigation.
The exact number of orphan books is tough to nail down. Some analysts estimate that they amount to 50% to 70% of all books published after 1923, but Paul Aiken, the Authors Guild's executive director, disagreed.
"Our experience is that we can find upward of 80% of rights holders once an effort is made," Aiken said.
In his letter, Blount argues that the number of orphan books would diminish over time as rights holders come forward to claim the money that Google would be obligated to set aside for authors for a period of five years, held in escrow by a new entity called the Book Rights Registry.
"As the registry starts sending out royalty checks, books will exit the orphanage in a rush," Blount wrote. "Nothing gets an author's attention like a royalty check. It's not an orphan-books problem that this settlement presents. It's an orphan-books solution."