Saturday, April 11, 2009

Google Book Settlement: Fellow Writers, Opt Out!

Your humble blogger finds himself tiptoeing, daintily, into the minefield of the Google book settlement.

I am a book author myself, so as they say, I do have a dog in the fight. I do not, however, have 11 years of experience from the ground floor, as I did in 2005 when I launched the objections to the freelance settlement, which now finds itself before the United States Supreme Court. Whether or not anyone else realized it or cared, I knew then, as I know now, that In re Freelance was a horrible deal for my fellow writers and for the public. And I acted on that knowledge.

The Google settlement, like Freelance, is largely the handiwork of the Authors Guild and its outside counsel, Michael Boni. Despite that rancid association, I have not made a snap judgment on Google. Some of my fellow Freelance objectors are mad at me because I even praised Google's promise of a royalty system, which is the missing ingredient of Freelance (and which, indeed, was recommended by the Supreme Court in the 2001 Tasini v. Times decision, which led to the consolidated Freelance litigation and settlement). At the same time, I noted that I had not read the hundreds of pages of fine print of Google, and I was not endorsing the overall settlement.

For obvious reasons, Google, from the get-go, had a much higher profile than Freelance. Now a lot of people who have earned my respect are saying, loudly and emphatically, that the Google deal is bad, or hasty, or both. Among these critics are prominent librarians and a consumer group.

Another is Anita Bartholomew, a fellow objector in Freelance. I again encourage readers of this blog to migrate to Anita's ( and read what she has to say about Google. It is thoughtful, well researched, compelling.

May 5 is the deadline for either objecting to or opting out of the Google settlement.

Objecting means that you are remaining in the class, hiring an attorney, and fighting the terms of the settlement. That is not my current position because, for one thing, I don't have time to fully educate myself and project absolute confidence, as I did in Freelance, that objecting is the very best move to make.

But I do have complete confidence in the tactic of opting out. Or maybe I should say, I believe that casting a "vote of no confidence" in the settlement sends the right message. At a minimum, this Google book train needs to be slowed down, and writers need to get themselves out of the class so as to preserve our ability to fight another day.

So I'm opting out, and if you're a book author, I'm urging you to do the same. If you'd like to join me in that effort, shoot an email over to

Irv Muchnick


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