Google Book Search Settlement and Reader Privacy for Authors and Publishers

EFF is gathering a group of authors (or their heirs or assigns) and publishers who are concerned about the Google Book Search settlement and its effect on the privacy and anonymity of readers. This page provides basic information for authors and publishers who are considering whether to join our group.

Creepy Google Books logo

If there is no privacy of thought — which includes implicitly the right to read what one wants, without the approval, consent or knowledge of others — then there is no privacy, period.

— Michael Chabon, author,
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel

...I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on my readers, and reduce my readership and therefore my revenue from these books. Moreover, I write these books in order to participate in the public debate on [security] issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive interests as an author.

— Bruce Schneier, author, Beyond Fear

Other authors signing on:

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher, City Lights Books and author, A Coney Island of the Mind
  • Jonathan Lethem, author, Fortress of Solitude
  • Cory Doctorow, author, Little Brother

Last updated: August 2009

We are hoping to present a strong list of authors and publishers who can truthfully state that they fear that Google's tracking of online book browsing, reading, and purchase will have a "chilling effect" on their readership. Our argument, first to Google — and if we cannot convince it, to the court overseeing the lawsuit — is that the settlement does not sufficiently protect authors and publishers because it fails to provide the same privacy protections for readers in the digital world that apply to reading physical books from libraries, bookstores, etc. These include protections from subpoenas, law enforcement investigations, and other forms of surveillance and profiling.

You can still participate financially in the settlement even if you join our group. We will be filing an objection, which asks the court to fix the settlement but which does not opt-out any participatory author or publisher.

Note: In order to participate, you must still own rights in some or all of a "book." For how the settlement defines a "book," see below. (Yes, we recognize that defining a book to an audience of authors is a bit strange, but the court will pay careful attention to this definition and whether authors fall within it.)

Deadline: All authors must have given us affirmative approval to file on their behalf by Aug. 22nd. Send your approval, plus a list of the books you own rights to, to: We'd also like a short note about why you think anonymity and privacy for your readers is important to the market for your work or to your own reading habits. We will draft a short sentence or two about you to include with the objection. We will email it to you so that you can edit or correct it before it is filed.

Pro Bono: EFF is a non-profit, public interest organization and does not charge for its services.

The Settlement Basics

Google and the Authors Guild have negotiated a settlement of the Google Book Search class action that will allows millions of books to be scanned by Google and made available to the public under one of three mechanisms (called Preview Use, Consumer Use and Institutional Subscription). The settlement has financial and some technical arrangements and outlines how each of the three mechanisms are to be set up. It also indicates what rights readers and authors will have under each of them. Google and the Authors Guild will be asking a federal court to approve the settlement in October, 2009; any objections to it are due on September 4, 2009.

The Problem

The agreement has no protections in it for reader privacy or anonymity. None. Neither the Author's Guild, the publishers nor Google has taken any steps in the context of this landmark agreement for the future of books, to ensure that the fundamental right of readers to privacy and anonymity of their reading habits are preserved. Our goal is to remedy that by asking Google to enter into an enforceable agreement to implement those protections, or if that attempt fails, to ask the court to disapprove the settlement until it has sufficient protections for authors and their readers. Note that by joining our objection you are still in the Class and will participate in the settlement, including financially, regardless of whether the privacy changes are made.


In the analog world, it is possible to keep what you read private because it is practically difficult to track and because there are legal and ethical protections in place. Courts impose high standards on law enforcement and others seeking access to reading records because the right to read anonymously is tied to the right to speak anonymously. In addition, librarians have a professional ethical responsibility to protect patron privacy. However, as traditional print materials have moved onto the internet, the practical protections of public libraries have diminished and the legal protections are less clear. Google’s current practices show it is capable of compiling “dossiers” that reveal our identities in intimate detail. These “dossiers” may be shared across Google products or with partners, civil litigants and law enforcement without clear standards for review. While Google may not intend any nefarious actions, any settlement that is to be approved by the court to clear the way for Google to create the world's largest repository of digital books and likely the only access channels to those works in digital form, must affirmatively contain protections for reader privacy and anonymity.

Who can join us:

Authors who are concerned about reader privacy. We can only represent people who are members of the class, so that means that they must meet the terms laid out by the lawsuit.

The short version is that they must either be the author, heirs or assigns of a "book," which is defined as a written or printed work that meets the following three conditions on or before January 5, 2009:

  • It was published or distributed to the public or made available on sheets of paper bound together in hard copy form for public access under the authorization of the work's U.S. copyright owner; and
  • It was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, UNLESS the work is not a "United States work" under the U.S. Copyright Act, in which case such registration is not required; and
  • It is subject to a U.S. copyright interest (either through ownership, joint ownership, or an exclusive license) implicated by a use authorized, or for which compensation could be payable, by the Settlement.

How to join

Send an email to by August 31, 2009 giving us:

  1. Your name
  2. Books you have authored (or for which you are the heir or assign)
  3. If you'd like, a short explanation about why reader privacy is important to you, either as an author or as a reader
  4. How best to contact you if we have questions or need to provide you with updates on the case

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