Thursday, 3 September 2009


Authors Guild Release Stinging Rebuke To Amazon Objection


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The US Authors Guild has released a stinking rebuke to Amazon's formal objection to the Google Book Settlement lodged earlier this week with the US courts. The statement comes on the eve of the deadline for authors to opt out of the settlement. Here is the Authors Guild statement in full.

"September 2, 2009. Amazon made it official today, filing a brief in the Google case claiming that someone else might gain a monopoly in bookselling. It seems we're compelled to state the obvious:

Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking. It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss. It won't do that forever, of course. Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors. The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.

Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans. Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure.

The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again, and Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement. The agreement opens new markets, and that's a good thing for readers and authors. It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that's a great thing for readers, students and scholars. The public has an overwhelming interest in having this settlement approved."



History of Google Book Settlement (from Wikipaedia)

On September 20, 2005, the Authors Guild, together with Herbert Mitgang, Betty Miles and Daniel Hoffman, sued Google for operating its Book Search project. According to the Authors Guild, Google was committing copyright infringement by scanning books that were still in copyright. (Google countered that their use was fair according to US copyright law.)

On October 28, 2008 the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google announced that they had settled Authors Guild v. Google. Google agreed to a $125 million payout, $45 million of that to be paid to rightsholders whose books were scanned without permission. The Google Book Search Settlement Agreement allows for legal protection for Google's scanning project, even though neither side changed its position about whether scanning books was fair use or copyright infringement. The Settlement also establishes a new regulatory organization, the Book Rights Registry, which will be responsible for allocating fees from Google to rightsholders. The settlement is subject to approval by a federal court.
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  1. To quote the Authors Guild: "The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again."

    Hasn't anyone at the AG visited a library recently? Are any of them aware that libraries are happy to arrange an interlibrary loan for books they don't have? Don't they know that Internet databases, with the inventories of thousands of used book stores, mean you can find and order that book you want in seconds. Never before has it been this easy to find out-of-print books.

    Keep in mind that the settlement is making these books available by gutting their authors' copyrights without the authors' knowledge or permission. Less than 5% of the authors in Googles initial scans, the ones that triggered this lawsuit, have been located. The other 95% will have their copyrights rudely tossed aside if this settlement is approved.

    Most absurd of all is the AG's claim that "Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement." That's because, under copyright law, Google has no rights at all, exclusive or non-exclusive. Only the copyright holder can bestow the right to copy. Violators of copyright never acquire the right to sue those with legitimate permission to publish. They never acquire "exclusive rights."

    As poor as the settlement is for authors, you'd expect that an organization named the Authors Guild would be a bit more apologetic about the settlement's seedier aspects. But no, they're defending it more zeal than Google is. To be honest, this is the one thing Amazon has done recently that I like.

    It's starting to look like the AG's lawsuit was a sham. If they'd filed it to defend an author's copyright, they would not have been this willing to toss copyright protection aside. They would have pursued to the courtroom and won. Did they begin the lawsuit as a ploy to get Google to bankroll their dream for a Book Rights Registry? With every 'stinging rebuke' of a settlement opponent, they make that hypothesis seem more likely.

    If you've got a book in-copyright but out-of-print, I strongly advise you to go the the settlement website and opt out before this Friday, September 4 has passed. In most cases, you can do it in less than five minutes. You just enter things like your name, address and book title. Just remember, before you click on the opt-out button, to print out a copy of what you've entered. Those running the settlement will give you nothing to confirm or document what you've done.

    You heard me right. Buy something online for $4.95, and you will get a trackable order number, an order form you can save, and a confirmation email in seconds. But do something as legally serious as opting out of this settlement and you get nothing that confirms your visit. It almost as if they know they'll be screwing up some opt-outs and want to avoid the consequences.

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