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You are here: Home FSF News Free Software Foundation files new objection to amended Google Book Search settlement

Free Software Foundation files new objection to amended Google Book Search settlement

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Feb 01, 2010 04:10 PM

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Monday, February 1, 2010 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) filed another objection in court to the proposed amended Google Book Search settlement (The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc.). The objection notes that proposed amendments which discuss works under free licenses unfairly burden their authors with ensuring license compliance, and urges the court to reject the proposed settlement unless it incorporates terms that better address the needs of authors using free licenses like the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).

The GFDL is a copyright license that authors use for their works when they believe others should have the freedom to share and improve those works. It was designed primarily for use with technical documentation, but has been used for many different kinds of written works -- from print biographies to Wikipedia articles. Whereas copyright is normally used to prohibit others from distributing works, the GFDL encourages sharing, with the requirement that any such redistribution must also be under its pro-sharing terms.

But under the proposed amended settlement, Google would generally have permission to display and distribute these works without abiding by the requirements to pass the freedoms guaranteed under the GFDL on to Google Books readers. Authors who wanted to use the GFDL or another free license would be required to designate that license in a Registry -- and the Registry would determine which licenses could and could not be chosen.

"As soon as we saw this proposed amendment, we realized that it wasn't good enough," said Brett Smith, license compliance engineer at the FSF. "The GFDL and other free licenses, like the Creative Commons Attribution and Attribution-ShareAlike licenses, already grant Google permission to display and distribute covered works through the Google Book Search database. Google doesn't need permission to distribute these books under separate terms, and authors shouldn't have to ask Google to come into compliance."

The objection states, "The proposed terms... [place] an unfair burden on Rightsholders. Rather than requiring Google to respect the terms of such Free licenses, Rightsholders are responsible for notifying the Registry that the work should be made available under those terms. The FSF sees no justifiable reason to shift these administrative costs to the Rightsholders. Works distributed under Free licenses typically indicate the license terms within the work itself, so authors have already made their choice clearly known. Google should be able to use this information to classify and publish these works appropriately...."

The full text of the objection is available online at The full text of the GFDL is at

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at and, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About Free Software and Open Source

The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see

Media Contacts

Brett Smith
License Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942 x18


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