Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Great Book Bank Robbery - The Final Month

Back in October, when we first wrote about what we called the Great Book Bank Robbery, we clearly saw Orphan Works as a major issue in the Google Book Settlement. It appeared to be a overly complex and ill conceived give away of copyright by bodies who did even represent the majority of the titles in question. We have long defended out of print but copyright material – 'orphans'. We aim to continue to do so even in the face of those bigger than us who just want what they see as ‘free and available’ or others see as public. The monopoly position granted Google by the back door may still happen, but now one month from objection closure, some are starting to stand up against it.

This weekend the New York Times published an article on the Google Book Settlement, 'Google’s Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenges’. The article covers all sides, but now recognises a, ‘growing chorus is complaining that a far-reaching settlement of a suit brought against Google by publishers and authors is about to grant the company too much power over orphan works.’

Some may say that the scanning programme undertaken by Google was illegal and they are now potentially being rewarded, others that they are too big to fight, others such as their lawyer Alexander Macgillivray, that the agreement, ‘expands access to many of these hard-to-find books in a way that is great for Google, great for authors, great for publishers and great for readers.” He admitted it was the ‘great for Google’ but we all know that already.

In the words of Richard Sarnoff, former chairman of the Association of American Publishers and co-chairman of the American unit of Bertelsmann, the parent company of Random House, “What we were establishing was a renewed access to a huge corpus of material that was essentially lost in the bowels of a few great libraries.” The fact that it didn’t belong to him or his friends, appears immaterial. The fact that they could not be represented in this give away, obviously was immaterial. The fact that none of those effectively changing the law through the back door, were elected, was immaterial. The fact that neither the authors nor the publishers, represented the great libraries, was immaterial.

The Google Book Settlement remains a bad deal. Some say it was born out of the need to settle a case action suit that was only making lawyers rich, others that they picked on the one piece of common ground neither party owned and built a whole settlement around it. We hope the settlement gets stopped, that the industry draws breath and takes one step back and that it doesn't rush forward in response trying to fix a settlement with other half shot solutions.

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