Friday, June 19, 2009

Resetting the Google Books Debate -- Remember the Authors?

This blog has been silent for a couple of weeks, mostly because there's not a heck of a lot new to say. The Freelance case before the Supreme Court is awaiting the amicus brief defending the Second Circuit decision. Then an oral argument date will be set.

The Google Books story will continue to be watched closely, up to and beyond its new September opt-out/objection deadline, and for the ongoing scrutiny by the Justice Department Antitrust Division.

At this point I want to chime in with a point that I think is being missed in the extensive Google coverage. Most of the commentary focuses on the concerns of consumers over the disposition of "orphan works" and on the concerns of Google's competitors. These are important issues, and if they wind up being the driving force behind the scuttling of the fatally flawed Google Books settlement, then I'm down with that. Mind you, I'm not just saying, "Whatever it takes." I'm saying that the interests of consumers and of a diverse array of electronic publishers in getting these ambitious new arrangements done the right way are something authors should be giving close attention.

But I also add, respectfully, that the problem with Google is not just orphan works. There are plenty of books out there with identifiable mothers and fathers -- more recently published ones, and ones continuing to pass daily through the print-publishing pipeline -- that are being stampeded into bad terms by another non-transparent sellout engineered by the Authors Guild.

Leaving aside the revenue splits, as well as the odious reality that Google blatantly and systematically infringed, by willfully exploiting the "ask forgiveness, not permission" model, the license-by-default provision alone is unacceptable.

Someone needs to keep saying that, and keep saying that our elected leaders in Congress, not just the courts, must assert themselves in retooling copyright law in ways that lay down crack-free asphalt on the information superhighway.

And if nobody else wants to say that, your humble blogger will.


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