Authors Guild v. Google Books: Update and Links

From mediabistro.com: the Authors Guild totally changed all authors’ lives today as they secured at least $60 apiece (and up to a whopping $300) for all authors whose books will go on Google Books. That was certainly worth all the trouble.

Here’s a summation of what the Authors Guild’s doing, what they’re fighting for, and why they’re dumb.

The book-scanning project

To recap, what Google wants to do (here’s the EFF guide) ss scan every book in the world, and then divide them into three groups:

  1. Out-of copyright books will be made freely available for free to everyone, free.
  2. In-copyright, in-print books will be scanned, but rights-holders would have to actively opt-in in order to enable users to search within those books, or buy them.
  3. And the real focus is on in-copyright, out-of-print books, the ones that are difficult to find anywhere except libraries. These books will be available to search within, preview and get full access to for a fee.

The Authors Guild sued not because of the payment structure for in-copyright books, but because they said the scanning of the books was violating their copyrights.

That’s right: the Authors Guild sued because they said digitizing books which were no longer in print (and making it possible for the authors to get paid for them again) was violating their copyrights. So the $60 mentioned above was not for rights fee, but simply for the inconvenience of having your book scanned and made available to anyone who cares to search it.

The Google terminal

The other tine of this ridiculous fork is the Google terminal, which is a machine on which people can read the full texts of all Google-scanned books. Google agreed to install exactly one  in every library. Wade Roush at Xconomy has more.

The thing I don’t understand about this is why it even exists. If you have to go down to the library to read the book for free, why not just, you know, check it out and read it for free?

Or, if you’re serious about making these books available, why not build a whole crapload of terminals like the Digital Library Foundation wants? Or why not just build the permissions into the internet computers that libraries already have, and get Google to buy you a whole bunch more of those?

Essentially, the Authors Guild wants to get paid–or, more specifically, doesn’t want to not get paid. So even if it’s a paltry token payment, like the $60 for scanning, they just want to get a win, like a bad high school football team.

They opposed the digitizing, and then they made it just as difficult as it ever was to get free access to these out-of-print books, effectively cancelling out a lot of the goodness of the Google Books program. I can’t imagine a fortune in copyright fees on out-of-print books is now going to come pouring out of Google Books; the books aren’t easy to read on the engine itself (plus, of course, there’s a reason that they’re out-of-print in the first place).

So my one simple question for the authors guild is: What are you trying to accomplish with all this?

Other bits and bobs

In other news, TeleRead pointed out a Guardian piece on the other colossal Authors Guild screw-up going on. And, appropos of nothing, here’s a Slate article about the bad uses of good technology–it’s actually about preimplantation genetic diagnosis, but the writer’s conclusion (including the thought that “Part of our challenge as readers and writers of history is to see differences between individuals, even as we weave them together in a collective story”) is pretty universal.

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