More on Authors Guild and Google

posted in: writing 0

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

0 Responses

  1. tsmacro
    | Reply

    Yep, you’re right, they make some good points. I agree they should have to ask permission.

  2. Harry
    | Reply

    If you check the fine print at Google Print you’ll see they get books from two sources, click here and you’ll see in part

    Right now, most of our books come from the Google Print Publisher Program, a web-based program that lets book publishers of all sizes have their book content included in Google’s main search results. Publishers send us their books and we digitally scan them and add their content to our search results – all for free. Additionally, we have partnerships with some well-known libraries, so over time your Google search results should start showing you more and more books from these collections as well. You can learn more about this project on the Google Print Library Project page.

    It sounds like the Google Print Publisher Program is legal. If a Publisher grants rights that it owns to Google then it sounds alright. It is the second part, Google Print Library Project that sounds fishy.

    They try to get around it by only displaying a certain number of pages to anyone in a particular book and if you log in it will show you a certain number of pages of any book before they decide you are breaking copyright but I can see someone having 100 (probably against the user agreement but anyways) google accounts being able to laboriously get 10 pages at a time of each book.

    I tried anonymous searches for Valentine Pontifex, a character of Robert Silverberg’s and got exactly one correct match where I could read just one page. Similarly for the character Severian I found one page for each of Gene Wolfe’s books containing that character. This sounds OK to me but I bet a hacker can get around it, then it will be copied on websites without such protections as google is offering and the cat will be out of the bag.


  3. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Well, if you’re talking about hackers putting books on the web, they can do that already. All they need is a scanner, no need to hack Google.

    The question is, is Google making money from systematically putting up book excerpts that they don’t have a right to? Where publishers are granting the right, it would seem okay–although there is the question of whether the publishers actually have those rights to grant–but I suppose that’s not really Google’s responsibility.

    If Google is using material under the Fair Use principle, then it all becomes squishier, because the definition of Fair Use is not easily quantifiable.

    I use some very brief excerpts from other people’s novels in my writing course at, and that comes under Fair Use. The excerpts are short, and are used for illustrative purposes, much like a book review. If I had, for example, used short stories in their entirety, I would have had to request the right. (This is one reason I used my own work for more detailed illustration: to avoid the hassle of securing rights. It wasn’t that I thought my stories were so much better than anyone else’s.)

    I think the fact that Google is making money on this is a big part of the reason for the suit. That, and the wholesale manner in which they’re doing it.

    But as I said before, where my own stuff is concerned, I’m happy to have them do it.

  4. tsmacro
    | Reply

    Yahoo is developing it’s own alternative:

    Yahoo-Backed Alliance to Open Web Library

    Oct 3, 9:41 AM (ET)


    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) is setting out to build a vast online library of copyrighted books that pleases publishers – something rival Google Inc. (GOOG) hasn’t been able to achieve.

    The Open Content Alliance, a project that Yahoo is backing with several other partners, plans to provide digital versions of books, academic papers, video and audio. Much of the material will consist of copyrighted material voluntarily submitted by publishers and authors, said David Mandelbrot, Yahoo’s vice president of search content.

    Other participants in the alliance announced Monday include Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE), Hewlett-Packard Co., the Internet Archive, O’Reilly Media Inc., the University of California and the University of Toronto.

    Although Yahoo will power the search engine located at , all the content will be made available so it can be indexed by all the other major search engines, including Google’s.

    By joining the project, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo is hoping to upstage Google, which has a one-year head start on scanning and indexing books so more literature and academic research can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

    “My feeling is we are doing something new here,” Mandelbrot said. “We are building a collaborative effort that will make a great deal of copyrighted material available in a way that’s acceptable to the creators. That is novel.”

    The alliance won’t include any copyrighted material unless it receives the explicit permission of a publisher or author. That restriction means the alliance is bound to be missing much of the material available in brick-and-mortar libraries.

    In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, Google plans to index millions of copyrighted books from three major university libraries – Harvard, Stanford and Michigan – unless the copyright holder notifies the company by Nov. 1 about which volumes should be excluded from the search engine index.

    Google’s “so-called” opt out provision has outraged many publishers, who contend the company is flouting long-established copyright laws. The Author’s Guild Inc., which represents about 8,000 writers, sued Google for copyright infringement last month. Google maintains its scanning represents “fair use” allowed under the law because it only allows Web surfers to view excerpts from copyrighted books.

    Some of the most strident critics of Google’s library project are endorsing the Open Content Alliance, or OCA.

    Patricia Schroeder, president for the Association of American Publishers, called described the alliance’s approach as “very encouraging.”

    Sally Morris, chief executive for the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, said she hopes Google follows the alliance’s example. “The OCA’s model of allowing rights holders to control which of their works are opened up…and where they are hosted may encourage others to do so.”

    Google also applauded the Yahoo-backed alliance. “We welcome efforts to make information accessible to the world.”

    On the Net:

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