The Authors Guild, Inc. has sued Google, Inc. on behalf of over 8,000 authors. The Authors Guild claims to be the nation’s largest and oldest society of published authors and the leading writers’ advocate for fair compensation, effective copyright protection, and free expression. Google Print’s stated mission is to organize the world’s information, but much of that information isn’t yet online. Google Print aims to get it there by putting book content where you can find it most easily – right in your Google search results.
Google Print, which was launched last October, facilitates the online searching of book contents, according to Google, makes it easier to find relevant books. Charges brought by The Authors Guild in a New York court claim damages and demand the search engine company stop uploading the contents of library books. Lawyers for the New York-based nonprofit asked the court to block Google from copying the books so the authors would not “suffer irreparable harm, ” caused by losing control over the reproduction and distribution of their work.
A recently published list of talking points, taken from The Authors Guild website, aims a broadside at Google, the company well known for its search engine and recently recognized for its broad applications of digital technology:
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.
Google Print’s website includes the following statement that addresses how Google Print works:
Just do a search on the Google Print homepage. When we find a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, we’ll link to it in your search results. Click a book title and you’ll see the page of the book that has your search terms, along with other information about the book and “Buy this Book” links to online bookstores (you can view the entirety of public domain books or, for books under copyright, just a few pages or in some cases, only the title’s bibliographic data and brief snippets). You can also search for more information within that specific book and find nearby libraries that have it.
It sounds to me that The Authors Guild is stuck in a hot-lead mode of thinking while the rest of the world has moved to digital type. Google Print doesn’t seem to be aiming to control the distribution and reproduction of authors’ work, even those that are still under copyright protection. Rather, Google Print aims to serve as a type of combination digital library and bookstore.
The Authors Guild doesn’t seem to be able to honestly evaluate the current state of its industry. In a publication on the association’s website homepage, A report linked from its own homepage, Report to the Authors Guild Midlist Books Study Committee, acknowledges the growing limitations of national chain booksellers and libraries to deliver a broad range of titles to the public. Wouldn’t you think that the association, rather than seeking further limitations on book publication, would, instead, seek to help its member authors to more widely distribute their work? Although The Authors Guild may be showing its true colors; the same homepage also prominently advertises another book, The Writer’s Legal Guide: an Authors Guild Desk Reference.
I think The Authors Guild should consider partnering with Google in an effort to help authors, both members and nonmembers, to distribute their work as widely as possible.
Unless The Authors Guild gets in the swim of digital publication, they’ll sink with their lead still in their back pockets.
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