Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Authors Guild Opts Out of the Truth About the Google Settlement

The William Morris Agency recently advised its literary clients to opt out of the proposed Google Books settlement. Your humble blogger doesn't know if Morris was following his lead, but I came to the same conclusion for myself, and the same recommendation for others, some time ago. Opting out is the right move for most authors, for a lot of reasons.

The Authors Guild -- co-architect of the Google deal as well as of the freelance electronic database sellout (now known at the Supreme Court as Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick) -- disagrees, as you would expect. But in a letter to its membership, the Guild frames the argument dishonestly. According to the Guild, "[H]ere's the deal in one sentence: unless you want to sue Google, there's no good reason to opt out of the settlement."

Oh really?

It's not a good enough reason to opt out of the settlement because the agreement is so dense and confusing that no one can understand it?

It's not a good enough reason to opt out of the settlement because an individual author can strike a deal with Google for better terms under the existing Partners Program?

Or simply because there's little harm in kicking back and letting this whole sucker shake out a bit more? The anticipated ad-click revenue, enormous in the aggregate, is miniscule on a book-by-book basis; surely the immediate "opportunity cost" for the average author amounts to pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, or at most a few Susan B. Anthonys.

Folks, trust me when I say that book authors aren't the parties who are desperate to close this deal. And that they don't "have" to sue in order to justify the act of opting out. Rather, it is the Authors Guild that "has" to opt in, lest it lose the funding and raison d'etre for its precious, market-strangling book rights registry.

So here's the deal in one sentence: If you want to keep your options open, opt out. Duh!


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