Following up on earlier posts about the Google Books case and the proposed settlement with the Authors Guild regarding past copyright infringement by Google, and after reading Scott Gant’s take on the case, I now feel like I have a handle on what’s going on.
1) Google broke the law by scanning and marketing a bunch of books it didn’t have the right to scan and market. They weren’t the copyright holders, but they went ahead and did it anyway, and that’s against the law.
2) The Authors Guild — which is also a corporation with its own self interests — sued Google for breaking the law, even though it may not have had standing to do so. It did so on behalf of its members, but it also did so on behalf of itself. If Google could break copyright laws with impunity, then the Authors Guild would be meaningless as an entity.
3) Google got together with the Author’s Guild and worked out a proposed settlement that does two things. First, it resolves all of the outstanding copyright infringement cases against Google and makes them go away, and it protects Google against any future copyright infringement suits. Second, it gives Google the legal right to scan and make available digital copies of copyrighted works — the rights Google should have had originally — and effectively does so in a compulsory way. (Authors objecting to the settlement, and to the transfer of their copyrights, were required to opt out as of yesterday, but it does not seem that serious effort was made to contact and educate all affected copyright holders.)
So who’s looking out for the little guy? Who’s protecting the individual rights of the individual copyright holders? Apparently nobody.
Google wants all those books so they can own the digital book market and freeze out Amazon, Microsoft, etc. The Authors Guild, sensing an opportunity to cut a deal that validates its own bureaucracy, has agreed to transfer its members’ copyrights to Google in exchange for a chunk of cash which will go to those members, minus shipping and handling.
In the end, this is what businesses, institutions, and the people who run them do: they make deals. The Authors Guild felt like they had Google on the ropes with the original copyright cases, so they tried to push Google around. In response, Google opened its wallet and bought its way out of trouble, and out of any future trouble, by throwing some money around. And then they both turned around and started carving up the great majority of copyright holders for their own ends.
And doesn’t that actually sound right? I mean, apart from the specifics, doesn’t that pretty much sum up how things are done?
The proposed settlement gets reviewed by the courts in early October. Between then and now you’ll see a lot of sparks but I’m not going to comment much.
As to what I think authors should do, I think authors should hold onto their copyrights. So here’s hoping you didn’t miss the deadline.
— Mark Barrett