Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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Is the Google Book Search Settlement Good or Bad for Writers?

April 2, 2009

Tags: Google

I'm posting links to arguments for and against the Google Book Search Settlement in a special section on my Writers and Editors website, on the page about Copyright, work for hire, and other rights issues. Writers keep asking whether to opt in or opt out of the Google Book Search Settlement. Several are opting in, because they never do anything to market their works anyway, and maybe it's better to get $60 per work in the settlement than to get nothing. One argument against the settlement is that it makes Google the largest publisher in the world, one with whom it would be hard for a mere writer to compete, even if the writer were smart enough to hang on to all rights (albeit granting a non-exclusive license to Google, which is what opting in would do, if I understand). In other words, if you could find My Great Book on my website or through Google Book Search, where are you more likely to find it first? Google, obviously. And if the ultimate goal will be to buy and download it where you find it, guess who's going to be selling the most copies. Author or Google? Another issue: Maybe this is a good deal for Google, but is 37% too big a share? This is a fascinating and important issue. Read up on it before you decide. Big issues are being decided here and what Mary Beth Peters of the Copyright Office has to say may be of interest.

Links to other resources on Writers and Editors website


  1. August 6, 2009 11:28 AM EDT
    Perhaps, to the extent that the objection would make Google a monopoly publisher, even of titles for which the author is still alive, there could be a requirement that IF someone wants Google to print the book, Google must notify them that the book is also available from the author, and [offer to] direct them to the site where the author sells it. The author would be required to let Google know that they offer a POD version of the book, of course, but if anyone is in a position to keep track of such info, Google is. Or the author could designate a preferred publisher-on-demand.
    - PM
  2. August 16, 2009 1:11 PM EDT
    Among new entries, European publishers target Google (Richard Waters, Ben Hall, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Financial Times, 8-12-09, on strong European opposition to the settlement) is the latest report on objections to the Google Book Settlement. Check out links to key stories on Google Book Settlement (Pro and Con).
    The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America statement on proposed Google book settlement is one of the easiest to understand statements against the settlement, covering issues of particular importance to fiction writers, and these: "the settlement makes no distinction, nor does it provide a mechanism for discovering the difference, between works deemed out-of-print and works in the public domain"; the AG and AAP "are poor representatives of the class as neither represents the types of work perhaps most significantly affected by the settlement, namely scholarly works"; the "'opt-out' mechanism proposed for the settlement contradicts the very foundation of copyright; the "the class does not reflect the interested parties, primarily the holders of copyrights in 'orphan works' where the rightsholder(s) cannot be identified or found."
    - PM
  3. September 2, 2009 11:38 AM EDT
    PublishersLunch on the settlement, citing various foreign publishers and Amazon. Amazon's objection is that it is anticompetitive and amounts to price fixing; PL points out that Amazon fears a competitor with overhwelming power. "Among the objections repeated by many of the filers from abroad are assertions of problems in providing notice to class members around the world; failures to translate the entire settlement into other languages and inadequate translation of key legal terms such as "work for hire" for countries where such legal terms of art do not exist; errors in the books database that have made it difficult for rightsholders to identify all of their works; undue burdens in the process of having to opt out for historical lines of thousands of titles; and broadly incorrect classification of works in other languages as commercially unavailable." • Public Index (an open archive of documents filed with the court, including objections. Scott E. Gant's objection is particularly cogent. • Justia (a second site of open access to documents filed on the case in Federal District court) Thanks to Anita Bartholomew for the leads. Here's Freelance Rights quoting Anita.
    - PM
  4. December 21, 2009 10:36 AM EST
    Among new entries • The Laboratorium: New White Paper on Settlement Objections (clarified by James Grimmelman of New York University) • Google Loses in French Copyright Case (Matthew Saltmarsh, NY Times, 12-18-09). Paris court rules against Google after publisher argues the industry is being exploited by Google's Book Search program, launched in 2005. For all entries on the Google Book Settlement, pro and con, Go here.
    - PM
  5. January 24, 2010 11:11 AM EST
    Ursula LeGuin's Petition Letter to the Judge of the Google Book Settlement (to be sent to Judge Chin by January 28th, 2010, attached as an exhibit to the brief to be submitted to the court by the NWU, ASJA, and SFWA, who oppose the settlement). One member of ASJA responded: "I can't sign the petition because I do not agree. I feel the agreement is useful and worthwhile. It verifies that Google's preemptive scanning was wrong and prevents others from going about it the same way. It sets up a best practices standard and mechanism for the transition from print to digital publishing. I respect the people who oppose the settlement and I know they have put much thought and concern into the matter. But I have not found their arguments convincing."
    - PM
  6. February 5, 2010 11:18 AM EST
    Here is the Justice Department's Feb. 4, 2010, statement: Despite Substantial Progress Made, Issues Remain and here's the New York Times on that statement(Miguel Helft, 2-10-10): "In a 31-page filing that could influence a federal judge’s ruling on the settlement, the department said the new agreement was much improved from an earlier version. But it said the changes were not enough to placate concerns that the deal would grant Google a monopoly over millions of orphan works, meaning books whose right holders are unknown or cannot be found. (para)The department also indicated that the revised agreement, like its predecessor, appeared to run afoul of authors’ copyrights and was too broad in scope. (para) The revised agreement 'suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class-action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation,' the department wrote." Here's the Authors Guild response:( To RIAA or Not to RIAA, That was the Question), explaining why they didn't press litigation through to the end. AG cites the Pyrrhic court victories of the Recording Industry Association of America and the collapse of the music industry. "The ace in the hole for musicians is that they're not as dependent on copyright as book authors are. Music is a performing art: people buy tickets to see musicians. Writing is decidedly not a performing art. Nearly all authors give away their performances, through book tours and readings, and are glad for any audience they can find. For most authors, markets created by copyright are all we've got.Protecting authors' interests has always been our top priority: in this case a timely harnessing of Google was the best way to do it."
    - PM
  7. February 8, 2016 3:26 PM EST
    For updates on the Google Book settlement, go here: Google Book Settlement (Pro and Con)
    - PM