Authors Guild Sues Google

posted in: writing | 0

Well. Timing is everything. After my comments last night about Google’s display of book pages, I got a notice today that the Authors Guild has filed suit about this very issue:

NEW YORK — The Authors Guild and a Lincoln biographer, a children’s book author, and a former Poet Laureate of the United States filed a class action suit today in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. The suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers.

Through its Library program, Google is reproducing works still under the protection of copyright as well as public domain works from the collection of the University of Michigan’s library.

“This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. “It’s not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m a member of the Authors Guild, but I’m not immediately sure that I agree with them on this. Whether Google’s usage properly falls under “fair use,” I’m not sure—and I suspect it hinges partly on what percentage of any given work they’re displaying. I know when Amazon started doing it, there was concern about whether books in which smaller contributions played a bigger part—such as collections of poetry, cookbooks with individual recipes, and so on—would be adversely affected, more than something like novels.

Speaking for myself, I’m happy to have excerpts available, as I figure it won’t hurt sales and might help them. But I agree that authors should have the right to say. Should publishers ask them before offering their books to Google? Yes. Did mine? Not that I can recall.

I’ll be watching this.

0 Responses

  1. tsmacro
    | Reply

    Here’s my thoughts on this for whatever their worth. It seems to me that a popular author who sells millions of books, might lose out on some money by having his or her stuff copied online. However it seems to me the majority of authors out there would benefit from the exposure and probably end up benefitting financially at least somewhat. I mean it’s free worldwide exposure it’s hard to believe that would be a bad thing for most.

  2. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    You raise a good point, but it’s not the whole story. I’m going to answer in a new blog entry.

  3. Lynda
    | Reply

    What did stories and being a story-teller mean before print technlogy? What if we are experiencing a new revolution in the shape of that meaning, in which the industrial age commody-based approach to publishing is under serious strain due to technical developments beyond its control. It seems to me that wrangles over copyright focus way too much on the legalities of enforcing something that may be ultimately unenforceable and not enough on those big questions.

  4. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    I’m not sure it’s as extreme as that, Lynda. Yes, it is possible that the paradigm will change–some have said that musicians will have to go back to being troubadors, getting paid for personal appearances more than for recordings–but I don’t think the technology is beyond control. Look at how the online music situation has changed in the last couple of years. The advent of cheap, legal music downloads has led to a growth industry. It seems that people really are willing to pay for legal copying, as long as it’s convenient, and the price is reasonable.

    We might not be able to stop every hacker who scans in a book and puts it online–though some of those people *have* been stopped–but we can certainly step into mass production efforts and decide (in court, if necessary) whether or not they are legal.

Post your comment before you lose your train of thought. (Mine already left the station.)