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.