I’m not a published author. I have no works in (or out of) print. But I hope to, some day. And this decision now will affect what can and will happen to my books (and my rights over them) when I am published.
Here’s how I understand the Google Book Settlement.‡
First, Google decided to borrow lots of books from libraries and digitize them, without asking the copyright holders for permission, and then made them searchable online. To go with that, Google would display ads to the people searching those books–effectively making money by presenting works they don’t own, without giving any money to the copyright holders (or asking for permission).
Then, some copyright holders and the Authors’ Guild got mad at Google and said, “hey, you’re a big bully!”* So Google said, “Oh, you’re right, I’m so sorry. Here, let’s settle this out of court. I’ll give you lots of money, and you let me keep doing what I’ve been doing. And you let me know if there are any books you don’t want me to digitize.**”
The Authors’ Guild’s eyes glazed over at the sight of the piles and piles of money, and they said, “Sure, ok!”
Then lots of other authors, who realized suddenly that the Authors’ Guild wasn’t actually representing them personally, took notice and said, “Wait a second. You want me to tell you that you aren’t allowed to digitize my works that I own? But I own them!” And then people started wondering, “Wait, what about copyright holders that we can’t find? Aren’t we just stealing their works?” And people in other countries said, “Uh, our works aren’t covered by U.S. copyright, so you’re not allowed to take our books without checking our laws.”
Then Google came back and said, “But this is the future, people! Can’t you see the future? A world where everyone can find exactly the bit of works they want, and they can check in advance whether they want to buy a book, from the comfort of their own livingrooms! (In their underwear!) Authors will make more money, because we’ll be selling more books! You can’t stop the progress of technology!” They also said, “This helps disabled people who can’t read have another way to access your work! This is all about the disabled people***! You’re hurting the disabled people!”
A lot of people (including me thought about this and said, “Ooh, the future is shiny. I likes it. I want the future!” And they also said, “I want to help the disabled people! Of course I do!”
But then they shook their heads and said, “Wait a minute. Why do we need to agree to this crazy thing just to help the future appear? Why do we need to give away people’s ownership of their own works in order to help people access those works? Why can’t we do this in a sensible way that benefits everyone? Let’s have an opt-in system!”
Lots of people joined the settlement with objections, lots of others opted out of the settlement with objections. Lots of people had no idea what to do, so they did nothing. And there were probably some people who liked the settlement just fine, and accepted it.
Finally, it went before the court, who, taking over a year to do so, had to decide whether this settlement was “fair, adequate, and reasonable.” It (by which I mean he, Judge Chin, my hero) concluded “that it is not.” See here for his full opinion: http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/cases/show.php?db=special&id=115. Judge Chin gives a remarkably open-minded response–in other words, he explains exactly why this isn’t fair or adequate or reasonable. Yay!† Score one for the rights of the little people!
Also, here’s SFWA’s announcement: http://www.sfwa.org/2011/03/judge-rejects-google-book-settlement/
‡ Does the internet need another person describing the issue and talking about it in public? Of course not. But I’m happy about the recent court decision, and so I’m going to talk about it.
* All dialogue^ and actions described herein are invented by me, and probably bear little resemblance to the actual events. Particularly the bit about glazing, in the next paragraph.
^ And, uh. Chrome’s spell-checker is telling me that “dialogue” isn’t spelled that way. Really? It prefers dialog. Dialog is only a valid spelling (in my Not So Humble opinion) for dialog boxes, those things that pop up and ask questions. If actual people are talking to actual other people, then it’s a dialogue. With a “u” and an “e”. *sigh* What is this world coming to?
** This is known as having to opt-out of the settlement. It puts the burden of administration onto the authors and publishers, instead of putting it onto Google who would be benefiting from the settlement.
*** I’m just certain there’s a more PC term I should be using here, but I’m failing to think of it. If you can suggest a better way to phrase this, please let me know. I don’t want to detract from my otherwise funny story by offending anyone.
† Ok, seriously? Chrome thinks “yay” isn’t a word, either. Nor “ok”. This, right here, is why I usually disable spell checkers. And grammar checkers.