Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Great Book Bank Robbery - Its All About Rights

Robert Dalton’s article in the New York Book Review, (see belows), prompts us to raise a number of questions with the proposed Google settlement.

‘Of the 7 million books that Google reportedly had digitized by November 2008, 1 million are works in the public domain; 1 million are in copyright and in print; and 5 million are in copyright but out of print.’

Question to ask and debate:

1. How many of the 5 million digital scans had permission granted, or due diligence on ownership performed on them?

2. If 5 out of seven books are potentially orphans (books whose rights ownership is not automatically clear) are Google going to scan first, sell second and maybe pay out third? Everyone else has to do sue diligence and even the potential Orphan Acts demand such actions. So are Google exempt from this?

We do not accept the often arrogant position taken that it’s for the good of all and they were merely poor little orphans. The opportunity to reverse this is fraught with litigation and bully boy approaches to what is not common property. If you leave your house vacant for a few weeks, does that entitle squatters to take it over?

3. Rights reversals have been a cornerstone of publishing but are these to now disappear by default and are those who argued for it to change now to get their way by means of jumping on the Google bandwagon? Tethering rights virtually unconditionally and in perpetuity is not in the spirit let alone the letter of the majority of contracts to date.

4. What is going to be the price of old books still in copyright but out of print. The proposal is complex based on several elements but how do you price today a book that was published in 1957 for $2? Some would suggest that the proposed algorithm is a farce. Some would argue that it could have only been dreamt up by someone who is either a geek or only understands front list pricing. If anyone thinks this works go down ask a few antiquarian book dealers how they price books and ask them what they think to the proposed model?

5. We all know that we have a problem with territorial rights within a global networked economy. We have witnessed the recent actions by Hachette with respect to US digital aggregators and etailers. The question now is where does Google Book Search start and finish and can it only operate in the US? What if a title is available in the US under HarperCollins and the UK under Hachette and Google have the US version?

6. If the rights owner is unknown then that revenue is held over but does Google still get paid for something that is clearly not theirs to sell?

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