What to Expect From the Book Rights Registry: A Q&A With the New Executive Director, Michael Healy
Michael Healy has a huge task ahead of him as the first executive director of the Book Rights Registry, the creation of which was a stipulation of the Google Book Search settlement agreement between the online search giant and industry organizations including the Association of American Publishers and The Authors Guild.
The Book Rights Registry (pending the approval of the settlement at the fairness hearing on Oct. 7) will oversee the collection and disbursement of revenue from the Google Library Program to authors, publishers and other rights holders, as well as resolve disputes and handle other responsibilities outlined in the settlement agreement.
Healy, who is currently the executive director of the industry organization Book Industry Study Group (a position from which he is anticipated to step down this fall), will be responsible for ensuring the Book Rights Registry makes the necessary cash payments to copyright holders whose works were digitized by Google without their permission as part of the Google Library Program. Then, he will have to oversee database organization for all the works digitized as part of the Program (which currently includes more than 7 million books).
Healy spoke with Book Business Extra about functions and goals of the new Book Rights Registry.
Book Business Extra: What is your vision for the Book Rights Registry?
Michael Healy: … When I think of my vision for the registry, I take as my set of guiding principles … the duties and responsibilities for the registry that are set out in the settlement agreement. And it's very clear: The registry exists to identify rights holders and to administer, for the benefit of the rights holders, the settlement in its entirety.
So my job, when I'm running the registry, is to make sure that the maximum number of rights holders who are entitled to benefit under the terms of the settlement, do benefit. And my job is to make that process for them as seamless and as simple and as straightforward as it can possibly be.
Extra: What data will be included in the Book Rights Registry? What will you be able to do with that data?
Healy: It's perhaps easiest to conceptualize the registry as a data-centered organization—because I think much of its success will depend on how effective it is in managing large, complex and volatile data sets. Clearly, there is an enormous data set associated with the collection of books that Google has digitized—let's say the number is between 7 and 10 million books.
That is, in itself, an enormous corpus of metadata. Then, there is the collection of metadata associated with rights holders who have claimed [their] books or should claim the books. And then, you have the linkages between the rights holders and all the data about their books—the links between who they are [and] what they've claimed, and then, you have all the links between who they are, what they've claimed, and the [use] preferences that the settlement agreement allows them to express about the books they own—such as their preferences about what is displayed, the price of their books and so on.
One of the most important parts of this settlement document … is that it allows rights holders to exercise a very significant degree of control over what parts of their books are displayed, how they want the books priced, and so on. And, of course, rightsholders are entitled to remove their books entirely from the settlement if they wish.
So you can imagine [that] you start with a very large set of metadata about the books that Google has digitized; you then layer on top of that a complex data set about the rights holder; and then you layer on top of that again the ability for each rights holder to express their preferences about their books within the settlement framework. … I think, probably, my background as someone who managed very complex metadata sets for Nielsen was part of the profile that interested those who were looking for someone to head up this registry.
Extra: How will the Book Rights Registry benefit book publishers?
Healy: … I see it as breathing new commercial life into books that were out of print, while leaving the existing market for in-print books pretty much alone. … They will become available for literally hundreds of millions of readers, potentially.
Google has the entitlement to sell these books online, to do advertisement-supported previews; and they'll all be available in the institutional subscription database sold to libraries. So these books, which were largely invisible to consumers, because they were hidden within research libraries, suddenly [now face] a whole new commercial lease of life. …
And, of course, then there's the financial side. … Google did agree to pay $45 million to rights holders for the unauthorized scanning that they did. And the registry's job is to administer those initial cash payments. Now how much those cash payments will be, we don't really know. But we certainly do know that they'll be at least $60 per book and possibly as much as $300 for each book that Google scanned without authorization. …
As Google strives to monetize its investment in these books, the Book Rights Registry will be responsible for administering ongoing payments to the rights holders, going forward.