Beware the Google Book Settlement?

I don't know much about IP, nor the class-action litigation against Google for digitizing books, but this op-ed by Lynn Chu makes me think I should be concerned about the suit's potential settlement.

After Google began digitizing the University of Michigan library in 2004, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class-action lawsuit for copyright infringement. Last November, those "class representatives" reached an out-of-court settlement with Google that would, if approved by the federal court, permit Google to post out-of-print books for reading, sales, institutional licensing, ad sales, and other publishing exploitations, by Google, online. The settlement gives the class-action attorneys $30 million; a new, quasi-judicial bureaucracy called the Book Rights Registry $35 million (more on this later); and $45 million for owners infringed up to now -- about $60 a title. It remains subject to a final fairness hearing, slated for June 11.

No one elected these "class representatives" to represent America's tens of thousands of authors and publishers to convey their digital rights to Google. Nor are the interests of this so-called class identical. There is nothing more individual in the world than a book, an author, a publisher, and the value of a contract. The aging baby boomers now flacking the settlement don't seem to understand that PDF scanning (how Google and everyone else digitizes books) isn't rocket science; it's cheap and easy. Books will be digitized without Google. But the Google settlement sets in amber today's overhyped role of the Internet, ruled by that great and magnificent Oz -- Google.

Sound like hyperbole? Consider this: Under the settlement, every rights-owner in America is supposed to hand over all their private contract data, on every edition of every work they ever wrote -- and every excerpt permission ever granted to others -- at the peril of losing the money Google will be making on their backs. This is a massive burden on everyone in the book industry, making us all, in effect, Google's data-entry slaves. Indeed, in most cases such information about every permission ever granted is unlocatable. It opens a Pandora's box of disputes and mistaken claims about who actually owns what.

I would be interested to hear what those who know more about copyright, and the specific claims at issue here, think about this.

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The Google Book Settlement:

The NYT reports on the controversy surrounding the proposed settlement in the lawsuit challenging Google's plan to digitize out-of-print books.

a growing chorus is complaining that a far-reaching settlement of a suit brought against Google by publishers and authors is about to grant the company too much power over orphan works.

These critics say the settlement, which is subject to court approval, will give Google virtually exclusive rights to publish the books online and to profit from them. Some academics and public interest groups plan to file legal briefs objecting to this and other parts of the settlement in coming weeks, before a review by a federal judge in June.

While most orphan books are obscure, in aggregate they are a valuable, broad swath of 20th-century literature and scholarship.

Determining which books are orphans is difficult, but specialists say orphan works could make up the bulk of the collections of some major libraries.

Critics say that without the orphan books, no competitor will ever be able to compile the comprehensive online library Google aims to create, giving the company more control than ever over the realm of digital information. And without competition, they say, Google will be able to charge universities and others high prices for access to its database.

The settlement, “takes the vast bulk of books that are in research libraries and makes them into a single database that is the property of Google,” said Robert Darnton, head of the Harvard University library system. “Google will be a monopoly.”

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DoJ to Examine Google Books Settlement:

The Justice Department has opened an inquiry into the proposed Google Books settlement. At the same time, the federal judge overseeing the proposed settlement has extended the deadline for authors to opt out as well as for other interested groups to file briefs with the court. So perhaps this settlement will get the scrutiny it deserves.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. DoJ to Examine Google Books Settlement:
  2. The Google Book Settlement:
  3. Beware the Google Book Settlement?
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