The Authors Guild sent out a more detailed explanation of their reasons for suing Google for putting copyrighted works online. I have to say they were pretty convincing. I’m just going to quote them:
- Google is a commercial, not a charitable, enterprise. Google is worth roughly $90 billion, making staggering profits through its online advertising programs. Its investment in Google Library is intended to bring even more visitors and profits to its website and ancillary services. The Guild is all for profit, but when the profit comes from the works of authors, the authors should be properly compensated.
- Google is scanning entire books, not just “fair use snippets.” Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety — every sentence, every carefully chosen word — without your permission. That Google presents browsers with small selections of your work doesn’t change that.
- It’s not just public domain books. The Guild has no objection, of course, to the digitization of public domain works. The Google Library project goes far beyond that, encompassing works that are still protected by copyright, including in print and out of print works.
- Out of print doesn’t mean public domain. Out of print works are valuable. Out of print works are republished every day, bringing welcome new advances to authors and the prospect of new royalty income. That Google is willing to sink so much money into digitizing these works is further proof of their ongoing value.
- Authors (and the Guild) aren’t opposed to making their works searchable online with a proper license. With a proper license, in fact, far more than “snippets” could be made available to users. The opportunities are boundless, but it all starts with a valid license. This is no big deal, really; businesses large and small sign license agreements every day.
Tsmacro, in a comment below, remarked that most authors probably will gain rather than lose from this enterprise. He may well be right. But that, in the end, is not really the point. The point is that copyright means that the creators of works are reserved the right to control how their works are copied and distributed. Most writers, if asked, would probably grant permission. But some wouldn’t. And that’s their right. (Caveat: the situation may be complicated by what permissions authors have granted their publishers for e-publishing, and whether the publishers granted the rights to Google.)
The part about Google doing this for profit is really the clincher. Even if many authors might benefit—they don’t have the right to make a profit from reproducing work without permission.
Note that the music industry, in the end, woke up and realized the need to license music downloading—and everyone is now benefiting from it.