Thursday, July 21, 2011

Open Letter to Attorney General: Don’t Let Authors Guild Hijack 'Google Books' and 'Freelance' Copyright Settlements

Legal scholar James Grimmelmann, a leading observer of the Google Books copyright class-action settlement, reports on his blog that the parties are in discussions to change it from an “opt out” to an “opt in” mechanism in an effort to address the reservations of Judge Denny Chin. As you know, Judge Chin – who last year was elevated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals but is trying to bring “Google” to resolution from his old district court seat – already has rejected two incarnations of the settlement.

Elimination of Google’s opt-out basis would be a welcome development. It would also be another feature distinguishing it, in a positive way, from the somewhat similarly stalled settlement of a global copyright class action on behalf of freelance journalists, which was engineered by three authors’ organizations led by the Authors Guild. In interviewing me last year about the two cases’ likenesses and differences, Publishers Weekly called “my” case, referred to by the shorthand “Freelance,” “the central rights dispute of the digital age.”

In Google, your Department intervened constructively with “Statements of Interest,” and most observers agree that these weighed heavily in Judge Chin’s findings that that settlement to date is fatally flawed. At the time I took the procedurally unorthodox activist step of writing to you to praise DOJ’s intervention and to petition you to find another creative avenue for coordinating the Google and Freelance settlements. The argument for doing so includes the fact both settlements are being spearheaded by lawyer Michael Boni on behalf of the self-appointed class representative Authors Guild.