Marchbooks' Blog

February 2, 2010

Google Book Settlement

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have been trying to track this issue in several publishing forums that I follow. There has been some heated discussion and passions are running high on both sides of the fence. I came late to the party, perhaps I was two busy publishing our first two books to see what was going on.

I don’t pretend to be completely educated on the matter. Perhaps I am missing some essential facts, but, for the life of me, I don’t see what there is to debate. Apparently there is a great deal of legalese and subterfuge involved in this settlement, but as in most such cases, it can be boiled down to one basic principle. In this case, that principle is whether or not Google has the right to infringe on the rights of numerous copyright holders; authors, publishers and their family members by trying to bind them to what is essentially a publishing contract that they did not agree to and for which they would get little if any compensation for.

As I understand it, Google has taken it upon itself, over the last several months, through their library affiliates, to scan countless books into their system with little or no regard for copyright. Their claim, again – as I understand it, is that their interest is in preserving older titles and protecting them from disappearing from the grid.

I am all for protecting the great legacy of the written word, however, it seems that Google’s motives might not be so altruistic. First, and probably most importantly, it seems that they made only a token effort to confirm that copyright had actually expired on these texts. Furthermore, it seems that, in their fervor, they blatantly stepped on the toes of numerous existing copyright holders. So now, there is this settlement in the offing which basically groups all authors and copyright holders together (regardless of the status of their copyright). Rather than allowing authors to opt-in to this book scanning program, it places the onus on the author/publisher to opt-out of it, promising little or no compensation for staying in and not even guaranteeing that an author’s books will not be scanned if they opt-out. Huh???????? It begs the question – why strongarm people into this agreement? If this settlement option was such an attractive deal, wouldn’t authors and publishers flock to get on board, without the need for coercion or underhanded tactics?

Confused – yes, incredulous – yes, pissed off – yes, yes, yes. I think the idea of a world library database of out-of-print, orphaned (expired copyright) books is a wonderful idea. I DO NOT THINK THAT PROVIDES AN EXCUSE TO INFRINGE ON THE COPYRIGHT OF COUNTLESS HARDWORKING AUTHORS!!!! These are two completely separate issues. Preserving a heritage of printed material which is no longer covered by copyright law is a terrific goal. Usurping the rights of legitimate copyright holders is unconscionable.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I know from first hand experience how much time and effort goes into writing, editing, formatting, publishing and marketing a book. Because of archaic discounts and return policies, it is hard enough to break even in this business. Now, we are supposed to accept that a company like Google can come in and scan the fruits of our labor (based on their unilateral decision and with no compensation) to use it as they like?

It’s not okay for someone to steal a book out of my hands, it is not okay for someone to print my books and sell them without my knowledge or consent and it is not okay for someone to copy my book and use it for their own benefit. That is the essence of copyright law. So, again I say, what is the debate over? Unless I am missing an important part of this equation, Google is attempting to do a major end run around well established copyright law.

If any of you feel that I am missing some facts and would like to enlighten me, I welcome it. If you are an author/publisher who also feels that your rights may be at risk, let me hear that as well. I welcome any and all feedback on this issue.

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