Saturday, February 23, 2019

Escaping Google’s Clutches

January 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Publishing, Self publishing

Google is scanning millions of books and plans to post the content on the internet. If you’re a copyright holder especially of a self-published work, there are some good reasons to opt out of Google’s plan and escape Google’s clutches.

In 2005, the Author’s Guild of America sued Google to stop them scanning copyrighted books. Google negotiated a settlement with the Guild. That settlement is due to be considered in court on January 28, 2010, and authors have until then to make their wishes known. There may be other opportunities later to opt in or out, but this particular deadline is especially important to authors as this may be the last opportunity to raise objections to the dubious principles behind the settlement.

The Google Book Search (GBS) lawsuit settlement as it currently stands is a bad deal for authors and their heirs. The settlement would require Google to set aside about US$40-million to be shared amongst some (but not all) copyright holders (authors, publishers and heirs). Authors may receive a miserly $60 per author per book or less if publishers take a cut, but many authors will receive nothing at all.

How the Settlement Affects Out-of-Print and Orphaned Books

dust_n_snowMy grandfather’s memoir “Dust and Snow” is a perfect example of a kind of book that is most vulnerable to Google’s voracious grasp. His book was self-published in 1988. My grandfather passed away in the 1990s and the copyright passed to his three daughters, my mother and my two aunts. They are his “literary heirs.” Since copyright extends for many years after the author’s death, the three heirs control a copyright legacy that will continue for years to come and will likely pass to their children in turn, even if the book is out of print.

From Google’s point of view, Dust and Snow is an orphaned book. If and when Google scans it, they are likely to be unsuccessful in trying to locate the publisher, since the book was self-published and my grandfather is now deceased. In essence, the way the settlement is written, such “orphaned” titles are automatically handed to Google free of charge to do with as they will.

Of course, from my family’s point of view, Dust and Snow is not orphaned at all. It is very clear who owns the copyright. So why should Google be allowed to simply assume control of a work whose copyright belongs to three members of my family? This is an objection that I plan to raise in a letter to the court. If enough authors and heirs do the same, then maybe the court will insist that the terms of the settlement be changed.

Authors (and literary heirs) of out-of-print books that are part of the lawsuit settlement effectively lose control over what Google can do with their book. Every out-of-print book scanned by Google is going to be automatically assumed part of the settlement UNLESS the author or their heirs opts out.

This means that, if my family failed to send a letter to the court by the opt-out deadline, Dust and Snow would be part of the settlement (as it currently stands) and the copyright would essentially be given to Google free and clear — my family would receive no compensation at all.

If we write to the court to OPT IN, we might receive $60 but we would be giving Google free license to publish the book on the internet, to sell e-book versions of it and even to sell print-on-demand printed copies of it. We would have no control and we would receive no further compensation.

If we OPT OUT, then Google may not post their scans of Dust and Snow on the internet and may not sell copies of it. Our family may make it available on the internet if we wish and we will receive the income that this generates.

Opposition to the GBS Settlement

The National Writers Union of the US believes the GBS lawsuit settlement is a very bad deal for authors and they encourage authors and their heirs to opt out. I heartily agree! I see no reason why Google should take control of my family’s literary inheritance. My grandfather’s literary heirs can create their own print-on-demand and e-book versions of the book if they see fit. That way, his descendants would reap the rewards, not Google!

I worked closely with my grandfather 20 years ago editing his book. It holds a special place in my heart and I would hate to see Google just take it over and leave the family with no say in the matter.

So I’ll be writing to the court on behalf of my mother and aunts this week to opt out of the GBS lawsuit settlement.

Read More

Read more details of this court case on this web page from the National Writers’ Union:

and on Wikipedia:

The NWU page includes a link to a sample letter that authors can use to advise the court that they wish to opt out of the settlement. You’ll need to adapt this letter slightly if you are a literary heir.

I know there are many who see great benefit to society in Google making books searchable and available online. This is discussed elsewhere in great detail. My own concern is from the point-of-view of the copyright holder: Is the Google Book Search scanning effort and the lawsuit settlement fair to my interests? The answer is a resounding no!

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. As a publishing professional with 20 years experience, I offer this as information to help you to make up your own mind about whether to opt in or out of the GBS settlement.


One Response to “Escaping Google’s Clutches”
  1. Jane, I truly value this blog post of yours. I had no idea Google was taking on evil overtones and am quite concerned as to the fate of many, many ‘orphaned’ books and their writers. Thank you for taking the time to share this with everyone – more so, in such simple and easy-to-grasp terms. I shall be tuned in to your blog for more!


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