Really, I Could Have Done Without….

The timing on the Google Settlement opt-out/objection deadline. I put it off before since I was at the tail end of copyedits, proofs, first conventions, and taxes. Now it has come back around and the deadline to say “fuck off and die” or “I’m going along with this, but I think it stinks” are coming up in 4 days. And I have a million things to do that are more immediate than the filing of yet more paperwork.

I don’t have a problem with the initial urge behind Google Books–really I don’t. What’s wrong with a highly detailed and accessible index? I’ve benefited from Google Books as a research tool, being able to look into the specific pages of a book that I thought might have been useful without having to buy it or toddle off to the library in person and waste everyone’s time only to discover the book was useless, or to reject a book that sounded useless only to discover later it had the info I needed, but had no way of discovering without reading every page. The index I don’t have a problem with and I don’t have a problem with the idea of a company who’s done a huge amount of work to make this index happen and functional making some money off their effort. I make (or hope to make) money off my efforts, too.

What I really don’t like is the way the index then morphed into an electronic sales and distribution net that has more rights and privileges over the material than the creator or copyright holder does. This is largely due to the settlement clauses introduced by the Author’s Guild, not by the action of Google. The immediate problem now is that there are only 4 days left to file the paperwork to say “this sucks” or opt out and be screwed until someone else takes Google to court (but not the AG for their ham-handed way of trying to “settle” the issue.)

I’m still not sure how I feel about the options, except that I don’t see how this can be legal: the Authors Guild does not represent me, I never gave them my proxy to act in my behalf on this, and “opt in by default” is not a legal standard. How can I be held to agreements to which I was no party and in which I had no proxy? How can the court legally defend giving my rights away to a group I don’t belong to and do not support nor receive any support from? I don’t want to be stuck in a bad business relationship with a pair of companies who have, without my permission or participation, effectively redefined copyright license and exercise in perpetuity, to their benefit and not to mine and without any consent or agreement from me. I can only hope the judicial review of the settlement in January throws the abomination out.

I have, and always have had, strong reservations about the Authors Guild. I’m not a member; I’ve never felt they truly had my interests at heart, and I’ve rarely seen them go after the issues that most worry me while they are still small–they tend to let it slide until the big money is on the line and then grandstand just like they have here (eg: they ignored the “audio” issue when it rested with Kurzweil in the late 1980s, but not when it was Amazon in 2009 and they still ignore that issue with Adobe’s Acrobat reader for Mac). Google I used to like quite a bit, but this situation is out of hand and they started it and then acted like royal tits when confronted with the ramifications of where they were headed. There just is no good end to this situation short of the judicial review throwing the settlement out as untenable, illegal, illconceived, and unconstitutional. Unfortunately, I don’t think they will, but if they don’t they will have handed the defining and licensing of copyright to two commercial entities with special interests.

Looks like I’ll be getting even less done this week than I’d hoped….

About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
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5 Responses to Really, I Could Have Done Without….

  1. hagelrat says:

    yikes, i agree that I don’t see how it can be legal for the guild to act on behalf of non members to broker a deal, but apparently it acts the same as a union? The union that council members can join will agree pay settlements for all council employees regardless of membership. Sucks.

  2. It’s kind of confusing, as is the settlement itself. In the end I’ve chosen to opt out rather than lend legitimacy to the settlement’s position of letting a corporation abuse my copyright at will with only token payment in return.

    Technically, I believe the Authors Guild is a Professional Organziation, not a trade union, and would, legally, only represent its members, not the class of all authors. They currently claim 8500 members out of the estimated 80,000 commercial writers in North America.

    The AG, you should note, did not bring a criminal charge for copyright infringement, but only a civil suit for compensation. The AG is busily telling us that it’s a good deal, without facing up to the pitfalls of the settlement which effectively grants licenses to Google to display and sell copies of anything they have in the scanned database without specific permission or contract with the author. It sets a very bad precedent.

  3. Cat says:

    The Author’s Guild sounds like the next to follow along behind the RIAA and the MPAA in organizations I dislike. All three are organizations that claim to represent a group of people far in excess of their actual members, and are mostly focused on the good of the individuals operating the “professional organization” rather than those which they purportedly represent.

    The Orphaned Works agreement worries me greatly, not as something that will immediately impact me (but hopefully, someday, I’ll actually get up off my lazy *** and write something, and maybe it’ll be good, and get published) but as something which takes the rights of original authors away SIMPLY because a work that was once published is now out of print. If I as an author decide to change my mind and bury a work, this effectively bars me from doing so without clearing it past Google. It also prevents me from negotiating a reasonably high cost for forcibly requiring me to sell a product which I may want to discontinue.

    That may not happen often, but it’s a possible situation I don’t see addressed. And I don’t want to see royalties that should rightfully be negotiated by the author set by fiat. Are you going to tell me that an out of print masterpiece is worth the same as that silly poem I put up on poetry.OMGWWIT?? (That’s Oh My God What Was I Thinking.)

  4. Very well written and a strong grasp on the legal ramifications… I wish I knew more about it. But from the little I *do* know, I am in agreement with you. Google seems to be doing something novel and cool, but wrecking it by being over-inclusive taking rights that they are not entitled to have… by allowing an escape for those who own those rights. Seems very *iffy* at best. Yes, that is legal jargon. 😉 Keep up the good fight!

    – David (the Pasty White Samoan Nazi)

  5. As I said, it’s a very tough situation. Many good ideas being overwhelmed by bad assumptions and worse law. No matter how much good there may be in protecting truly orphaned works, the assumption of the settlement position essentially boils down to “if you don’t claim it, we shall declare it an orphan and take it for your own good.” That seems to me a very, very bad precedent indeed.

    David: Alas, Pineapple Scot and I did not manage to catch up, so I can’t report what he may have said, while looped, about this idea. But since you’re the law-guy… I’ll take your word on the “iffy” ness of it. 😉

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