Friday, May 01, 2009

It’s Not Over ‘til It’s Over

For quite a while now we’ve had the back and forth between Google and publishers and authors over Google’s decision to digitalize books. Finally, there was a settlement -- Google said it would pay $125 million into a book rights fund to pay authors and publishers.

Well, “settled” doesn’t mean “finished.”

According to the Dayton Business Journal,
The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into a proposed settlement by Google Inc. with authors of books it wants to put online, according to news reports.

A New York judge recently pushed back the May 5 deadline for authors to tell Google whether they want to opt out of the deal. Now that date has been moved out four more months.
Apparently the problem is in the details of the agreement. According to The Register:
The details of the agreement reached with publishers gives Google monoploy rights on publishing books included in the deal - so if Google decides to delete a title it will effectively disappear. If Google labels a book "inappropriate", no one else can publish it online without risking being sued. There's no indication what Google might dee an "inappropriate" book.
The Register also notes other concerns over the agreement:
Under the agreement Google pledged to establish a Books Right Registry - US copyright holders can get onto the register and get a cut of 63 per cent of Google's earnings from their work, or can ask for their work to be removed. If they don't receive an opt-out request, Google has the right to scan and offer for sale digital copies of books. … The deal also controversially gives Google rights over "orphan works" - books written by people who cannot be traced.
Ars Technica went more specifically into concerns by some authors and publishers about the deal:
So, for example, the agreement as structured could essentially turn Google into the sole rightsholder for orphaned works, which would mean that anyone would have to negotiate with the company over the use of these works. Other objections focus on the fact that Google could control the sale and distribution of out-of-print works, even if the original author decided to release it under a more liberal license. Other recent objections suggest that the settlement, by giving the search giant control of how the out-of-print works are displayed, could allow the company to censor and selectively display these works, based on community standards or political concerns.
If you want more info, including links to the motion filed to intervene in this case, check out The New York Times.

So apparently, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. You’ve got about four more months to weigh in and be heard. The best place to voice your opinion is with The Authors Guild or talk to your publisher.
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  1. Those points definitely need to be re-negotiated! I know a lot of authors and publisher who've been screaming about this settlement for weeks now. It gives Google too much control. I've a couple older, self-published books listed with Google (not by my choice) and while I'll take the approximately $60 per title settlement, I also want the right to remove those titles from their database.

    Let's see how they reword the new settlement...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. There is so much I don't understand about this whole deal - like what happens to a book if an author opts out. I'm glad they are taking another look at the settlement and I hope I can better understand it when it comes out.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  3. It's a Googley Gobbled up mess if ya ask me. Thanks for keepin me abreast of the sitch.

  4. I sometimes think legalese was invented to confuse the average person. Thank goodness we have the Authors Guild.

  5. Diane, you have to claim your books through Google to have any right over whether Google posts them online. Go here: One of my older books is out-of-print (publisher went under), but I claimed it so Google can't call it an "orphaned work" and basically steal the rights to it.

    Or at least I hope. They have your books whether you want them to or not. They've made digital copies without your consent or knowledge. They may act like all they want is to have the largest online library in the world, but they also plan to profit from your work even though no one gave them that right. It is crazy and evil.

  6. Thank you Christina -- and esp. thanks for including the link.

    It is crazy!

  7. Hi Helen,
    Great topic. I've been trying to figure this out for months, sat in on the Author's Guild, phone conference, and have an email into my agent, hoping he understands it. It's just unbelievable that Google could do this in the first place. And why is that authors have to lead this charge and not the Publishers with their resources?

  8. Hi, Helen. Perhaps you know, so I'll throw it out there.

    One of the things I've always wondered about is how this proposed Google settlement, and whether or not an author/publisher opts works for folks like me - unpublished authors, or even yet unpublished or even unwritten works by established authors. Even though I have yet to publish anything, does that mean I still need to notify Google that I want to opt out in the event that I do publish something? Does Dan Brown have to opt out for his new book coming out later this year? This whole thing just seems completely unworkable to me.

  9. Jan, the Association of American Publishers is also involved in this. But as writers, our biggest source of info and help is the Authors Guild.

    Jon, I am no lawyer, for sure, but it appears the big sticking point is not books that are in print or soon to be in print. It's books that are out of print, even though they are still copyrighted. That and that Google appears to be the one who gets to decide what they deem inappropriate and can take down.

    If you live in the Austin area, you can catch Roy Blount, head of the Authors Guild, on May 27. ($50)

  10. Boy, just when you think every possible book scam has already been dreamed up! Unbelievable. I'd heard of this, but appreciate the good info/explanation here. Makes it a lot clearer. No HAPPIER, just clearer.


  11. Wow, so much legal stuff going on...

  12. Lisa, this feels like more of a book grab than a scam, although it may be that as well.

    Enid, it is too much legalese. And to think I used to want to be a lawyer!

  13. Thanks for such an informative post, Helen. I've followed the case with some trepidation (and a whole lot of confusion!) for some time now. I'm glad the Justice Department will finally be taking a look.


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