Feb 092009
 

It’s hard enough trying to earn a living as an author when people so excited over your book loan out their copy to all and sundry rather than suggesting all and sundry buy it, but when Google comes along and posts that book online for all and sundry plus your one buyer to read it for free, it just becomes impossible.

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Google mission statement

Back in 2004, Google stepped lively to achieve this goal and started digitizing books, that is, they scanned books and posted them on the Internet. To do this for books in the public domain is a laudable goal, especially by authors long dead, their books long out of print, only available in obscure second-hand bookstores. But Google didn’t stop there; they started digitizing books by writers very much alive without asking their permission first. Of 7 million books they posted online, only 1 million are in the public domain, 1 million published online with permission through Publisher Partner programs, and the other 5 million through simple ignoring of the fact that authors and/or publishers own the copyright to their books and Google cannot legally do a thing with them sans permission. There is no difference between a little guy stealing music through peer-to-peer networking and illegal downloading and a behemoth using its technological muscle to take books for free.

Authors and Publishers choked over their coffee when they realised what Google was up to and hauled its big ass into court with a class-action lawsuit. For three years, authors and publishers fought with Google, and authors and publishers fought with each other (Google isn’t the only one trying to get something for nothing), and they finally hammered out a settlement a few months ago.

Access Copyright recently contacted every author in its files to tell them about webinars and the live seminar they’re holding on February 19th about this settlement. You see, Google may be an American company but its mission encompasses the world, and its intent with book digitizing is to get the world’s books online, not just American books. I “attended” one of its webinars last week — my first webinar! There was an awful lot of legal gobbledygook to absorb, dates to make note of, and one big task to do. In short, authors have to educate themselves and then ask themselves:

  1. Do they want their book(s) digitized — will it have a good impact on sales, or reduce sales? Is it good for best selling authors or only for poor selling authors? From the questions asked, it seemed to me that authors familiar with the Internet and able to see the future of publishing were less afraid of digitizing — as long as they were paid for their work, like any human being likes to have done — than those who continue to hunt and peck the traditional way. Or maybe it was those with a business mind who were more open to the idea. Electronic paper will become a reality one day, and books may eventually appear in that form more often than in printed form. As long as copyright law keeps up and authors continue to assert their right to earn a living from their work, it should turn out OK. Scary but OK. Unfortunately, Canadian authors are not as vociferous as their American cousins in protecting their right to be paid for their work and earn a living.
  2. If authors decide to opt in to the Google settlement, do they want to give permission for only non-display uses for their book or display uses as well? Do they really understand the difference? And if display, how much will ensure good sales without giving the book away and crashing those sales?
  3. Do they want to remove their books altogether from digitization?
  4. Do they want to opt out of the settlement so as to retain their right to sue? Unless one has pockets of cash, I don’t really see this as being a wise option.
  5. If their book was published before 5 January 2009, did they agree to a Publisher Partner program with Google? In which case the settlement is moot and doesn’t apply to them.
  6. How do they want to price their books that Google will offer for sale? From the percentage splits given, it seems on the surface that Google is not ripping authors off as much as Amazon is. But it all comes down to whether the percentage is based on gross or net sales. I’m not sure I understand the answer to that.
  7. Are authors happy with how much the publisher will pass on of Google royalties? If not, take note that the Book Registry will mediate disputes.
  8. If all of this makes no sense, even after the webinars, start with the Google Book Settlement FAQ.
  9. Most importantly take note of the Google Book Settlement website. You gotta claim every single book and insert through that webiste to ensure the Book Registry has all your works in its database and you as the author will be compensated. Authors have until 5 January 2010 to do so, but as human nature dictates, if you don’t do it now, you’ll be scrambling on 4 January 2010!

I jotted down much of this information even though I’m pretty sure that I opted in to Google’s partnership program through iUniverse for Lifeliner. Still, I need to sign in to the Google Settlement website and ensure I claim my book. And then as I was pondering how I have more legal crap I have to deal with, I realised Lifeliner is not my only published work. I have a short story published in an Anthology; I think that counts as an insert. It’s definitely settlement material.

People are prone to tsk tsking litigation as if it’s some dirty diaper, but when corporations like Google flaut the law, take no responsibility for the repercussions of their actions, or outright steal a person’s work, what is a person supposed to do? Shrug their shoulders and hope the bank understands? Or their parents don’t mind taking them back in? Litigation is the only recourse. Here the class action lawsuit forced Google to recognize that authors own the copyrights and they simply can’t run right over those rights in their zeal to organize the world’s information. They must pay the copyright owners. It’s the right thing to do. It’s too bad that more and more, courts are the only way to get corporations to do the right thing.

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