Google's Other Battle

In Google’s lofty drive to become a universal digital library and immensely richer in the process, it seems to have concluded that in the grand scheme of things, the intellectual property right of book authors and publishers, which in many cases may mean their livelihood, is somehow expendable.

The Blacksmith Blog has summarized and commented on the situation as follows:-

“For anyone who hasn’t heard about it, Google has been scanning books in American libraries over the past few years in order to establish an online database of all the world’s information. It presents this as a noble aim, but its actions are driven by the bottom line: it will make billions from adverts displayed beside these books, or portions of books, online. It also reserves the right to print these books at some future time and sell them directly.

But even leaving money out of the equation, there is an obvious problem with this: it’s the world’s greatest-ever theft of intellectual property. It overturns the fundamental principle of copyright, which is that no work may be reproduced without the express permission of its author. No authors were asked whether it was OK for Google to copy their work, put it online and sell ads beside it. Many of them will never even know about this scheme. It seems that Google took a look at the publishing industry, a fragmented sector made up mostly of small and medium sized enterprises, and decided it could wade in and take over.

The biggest half-dozen US publishers planned to cut a deal with Google, leaving the majority of authors and publishers out in the cold. The deal gives Google the sole right to determine which ‘orphan’ books are out of print, and seize the rights to them, even though their authors may be alive and well but haven’t heard about the Settlement. This high-handed ‘opt-out’ approach directly contravenes the terms of copyright (which Google can’t have missed during its scanning, since they are printed on the reverse title page of every book). If Google had wanted to do this properly, it should have formulated an opt-in scheme within the law.”

The blogger laments on publishers being no match at all for the internet giant, and warns that in the worst-case scenario, authors would simply stop investing time in writing.

The most important warning issued by the National Writers Union is that Google’s revised settlement proposal, once it is approved by the court, would affect all authors of works in any language published in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia that might have been included in the major research libraries scanned by Google. These authors would be bound by the settlement unless they have opted out by January 28, 2010, and would be considered to have granted Google a license to use their works and to sub-license them to others, for their profit.

Here’s more background information from the National Writers Union:-

FAQ about the Revised Google Book Search Copyright Infringement Settlement Proposal

Some excerpts:-

“Notices began to be sent to some authors beginning December 14.

Authors and publishers (again, including self-publishers) have until January 28, 2010 to opt out (even if they previously filed a claim), opt back in (if they previously opted out), object (regardless of what, if anything, they originally did) to the revised proposal, or request to speak at the "final" court hearing on whether to approve the revised proposal.

Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court will hold a hearing in New York City on February 18 on whether the revised proposal for a settlement is fair, is legal, and should be approved. Any authors or publishers who opt in to the settlement have the right to speak at the hearing, as long as they send a letter to the court by January 28, 2010 stating their intent to appear and speak (although the judge may limit how long each person is allowed to speak).”