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Authors Guild Sues Google

from The SFWA Bulletin #167, Fall 2005


Authors Guild Sues Because of Google Library

    On September 20, 2005, the Authors Guild and three individual authors sued the powerhouse Internet search firm Google over potential copyright violations in its proposed Google Library. The individual plaintiffs were listed by the E-Commerce Times as "Herbert Mitgang, a former New York Times editorial writer and book author; children's book author Betty Miles; and Daniel Hoffman, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate in the early 1970s."

    The Google Library is a vast extension of Amazon's search inside the book program. Tim O'Reilly, of the publishing firm O'Reilly Media, Inc. and a member of the publisher advisory board for Google Print, described the program in these words on The New York Times op-ed page:

      Google has partnered with the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, the New York Public Library and Oxford University. Google will scan and index their library collections, so that when a reader searches Google Print for, say, "author's rights," the results point to books that contain that term. In a format that resembles its current Web search results, Google will show snippets (typically, fewer than three sentences of text from each page of each book) that include the search term, plus information about the book and where to find it. Google asserts that displaying this limited amount of content is protected by the "fair use" doctrine under United States copyright law; the Authors Guild claims that it is infringement, because the underlying search technology requires a digitized copy of the entire work.

    Exactly. The Authors Guild press release (www.authorsguild.org/news/sues_google_citing.htm) claims that "the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers." Their complaint seeks damages and an injunction to halt further infringements.

    Google responded with a temporary halt to the program (to November 1, 2005, as of the time of this writing). But as the E-Commerce Times noted (www.ecommercetimes.com/story/EIGVxK9EuYy9eJ/Authors-Guild-Sues-Google-Over-Print-Project.xhtml):

      Google tried to assuage some concerns by temporarily suspending the digital scanning of books that are not in the public domain, that is books that still have valid copyrights. But Google's offer of an opt-out program, in which it would resume scanning books unless the copyright holders specifically asked Google not to do so, has also been attacked by publishers.

      The Authors Guild suit is the first actual legal action against the program, however. By seeking to have the complaint recognized as a class action, the Guild leaves open the possibility that other publishing groups and thousands of individual writers could join the case.

    Similarly, the Association of American Publishers in their August-September 2005 What's News newsletter was equally firm:

      The Board informed Google that the "opt-out" proposal ran counter to every principle of copyright law, pointing out that the scheme "would impose unprecedented burdens on publishers in terms of the time, labor, and expense required to compile the lists." In addition, "even with the dedication of necessary resources, the accuracy of such lists would be subject to challenge based on complications caused by rights reverting to authors, changes in imprints and corporate identities of publishers, disputed interpretations of contracts, and numerous other transactions or events affecting ownership of rights."

    Susan Wojcicki, Google Vice President, Project Management, gave a brief rejoinder on the official Google blog, citing the Fair Use standard of current copyright law (googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/09/google-print-and-authors-guild.html):

      Let's be clear: Google doesn’t show even a single page to users who find copyrighted books through this program (unless the copyright holder gives us permission to show more). At most we show only a brief snippet of text where their search term appears, along with basic bibliographic information and several links to online booksellers and libraries.

    The page also shows an example of what such a search would produce.

    For its side, the Authors Guild set forth these talking points to counter Google's position (www.authorsguild.org/news/charity_handy_talking.htm):

      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.

    The fight will not stop there. On October 3, 2005, the Authors Guild sent out the following email to members and posted it on its web site (www.authorsguild.org/news/adobe_book_scanning.htm):

      A coalition including Yahoo, Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and the libraries of the University of California and the University of Toronto announced today that they're launching a book-scanning project that would make digitized texts searchable through Yahoo. Yahoo's coalition took care to state that only works for which it has the rightsholders' permission or are in the public domain would be included. Although we haven't reviewed the details of the program yet, it sounds as though they're going about this in a sensible way.

      Yahoo's new venture is further demonstration that the right to store books in digital form is commercially valuable, a right that should be licensed rather than appropriated.

    Authors should be contacting Google, first to protest their opt-out policy, especially as opposed to Yahoo's approach, and to ask for the removal of their copyrighted works if they do not want them searchable as part of the program.

    Google maintains a page called Google Print Library Project Exclusion Registration (https://print.google.com/publisher/exclusion-signup) at which the copyright holder can ask Google not to scan library books for which you hold the copyright. This page is aimed at publishers who are currently a Google Print publishing partner, but Google explicitly states that non-partners can also get their books removed. Therefore, individual authors can either respond directly or ask their publishers to do so, as the rights situation warrants. More general information about the program is available at print.google.com/googleprint/publisher_library.html#options3.

Audio Books Prosper on iPods

    A squib in the RWR News column in the September 2005 Romance Readers Report noted that the hottest trend at libraries is for their iPods to be checked out for listening to audio books. In fact, according to Rachel Deahl in an article for The Book Standard (www.thebookstandard.com/bookstandard/news/publisher/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000970485), the iPod:

      is making consumers more comfortable with the idea of downloading audiobooks and listening on-the-go…. "[Digital audio] is the fastest-growing area of publishing," says Lori Bell, head librarian at Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center in Peoria, Ill. "Books have stayed the same, but the audio publishing industry is the only one that’s really growing quickly." For an industry constantly confronting the fear that it is thoroughly invested in a dying product, the growing popularity of DABs may point to salvation, promising to bring in younger, and more, consumers.

    Major players in the industry are also partnering with Apple, as did Audible in September 2004. On its web site, Audible.com, the company provides a large number of bestselling f&sf titles. Perhaps even bigger, J. K. Rowling made an exclusive deal with iTunes to provide all six Harry Potter books for download, in an anti-piracy move. You will of course want to hear them on your official Hogwarts iPod. Really.

    On the publicity front, Simon & Schuster, Little, Brown, and Holtzbrinck are offering podcasts to promote their book lines. USA Today reported that "Holtzbrinck offers four new podcasts every month — one each in the fiction, non-fiction, science fiction and self-help genres from such publishers as Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt, Picador, and St. Martin's. Each of its 30-minute podcasts consists of up to three book excerpts."

Children's/YA Market News

    From Connie C. Epstein's Publisher's Corner column in the July-August 2005 SCBWI Bulletin.

    Macmillan Caribbean, a division of Macmillan Publishing UK, has announced a new "sci-fi/futuristic/fantasy/folklore" series, with a launch set for 2006-7. These full-length Caribbean-themed novels will be aimed at boys and girls ages 12 to 15. Prospective writers are to submit a two- to three-page synopsis, with three or four sample chapters and a short biographical sketch. Submissions will not be returned, but responses are within six to twelve weeks. Advances against royalties with the signing of a contract. Email submissions go to sarena@tstt.net.tt; print ones to the editor, Joanne Johnson, #6 Mace Place, Haleland Park, Maraval, Trinidad, West Indies.

    On the non-fiction side, Highlights for Children science editor Andy Boyles wants 350-400 word articles showing science as a process. However, don't try birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, or volcanoes as subjects. Payment is $150 and up. "Guidelines are posted at www.highlights.com, and writers are advised to review back issues of the magazine before making a submission." Send manuscripts to Boyles at Highlights for Children, 803 Church St., Honesdale, PA 18431.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 16000 Stuebner Airline Dr., Suite 140, Spring, TX 77379, www.rwanational.org

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org/

Copyright 2005 by Steve Carper

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