Friday, August 14, 2009

Authors Guild on the Unbearable Flexibility of Opting Out

Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly has coverage of a conference call "arranged by supporters of the Google Book settlement for Thursday afternoon after they grew alarmed by what they said was the misinformation about the deal being released by William Morris Endeavor." Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken "took the lead in making the case why the deal is a good one for authors."

See "Authors Guild Again Touts Benefits of Google Settlement for Members,"

The story includes this gem:

"Using what is by now a familiar line, Aiken said the only reason an author should opt out of the settlement is to maintain his or her right to sue Google. Staying in the settlement gives authors much more control over what Google can do with their books, he said, noting, for example, that authors can change their mind as many times as they like about how they want (or don’t want) their books to be displayed in the Google database."

There are several problems with the Authors Guild's appeal. One is that it simply pleads, "Trust me." Trust the same negotiators who have been trying to give away the Tasini v. Times freelance journalists' victory in exchange for peanut shells and an eternal regime of all-rights contracts? Not so fast.

But the fundamental problem here is gross illogic. Opting out is, prima facie, a more flexible position than opting in. Only the settlement parties are asserting that they know exactly what will happen if their handiwork gets approved. Independent experts agree that it's full of loopholes. Independent non-experts don't even need experts, independent or otherwise, to know that there is such a thing as the law of unintended consequences.

So why are we being railroaded into getting on board a deal that is urgent only for Google and for the viability of the Authors Guild's Book Rights Registry?

Authors should be assessing the advantages to them of online scanning on a book-by-book basis. If it works for you for one or more of your books, you then should figure out what the settlement and the Registry accomplish for you -- Anita Bartholomew has demonstrated rather convincingly that they grant you something considerably less than most-favored-nation status.

Armed with that knowledge, you can still opt in if you want. It's the lazy writer's solution. You don't have to do anything, and you can leave your business interests in the hands of self-appointed guardians with their own agenda.

But don't try to sell us on the idea that the only alternative to doing nothing is to hire an expensive lawyer tomorrow and sue Google yourself. Ain't so.


Anonymous Rick Rofihe said...

Not everyone agrees with the Authors Guild “settlement” “agreement”. See
I’m an Authors Guild member who — like many others, I’m sure — finds himself in a “David vs. Googleiath” situation.

7:34 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home