Tuesday, August 25, 2009

GBS Survey Says - Too Much Confusion and too little Support

The noise on the Google Book Settlement is growing as predicted and the position of both extremes hardening daily. What is clear is that there is little clarity and much uncertainty, as we all wish for a digital future in which we have equal rights and where technology is used for the good of the author and consumer and not merely to offer commercial gain of the intermediaries.

We do not support the status quo, neither do we support what we view as commercial bullying. The issues to us have and remain, representation and orphans. The imprints in copyright works are adequately covered and cause no concern. The public domain is the public domain and by its very name is open to all. Orphans may be without known, or visible, or even disputed parentage, but that doesn’t mean that they can be given away by parties who don’t own them to avoid legal bills and the settle a case that remains unsettled, just botched.

What we wanted was a clear dissemination of the facts but we feel we just got fudge, a few discussions and a trust us we know best’ for some within the industry that should have known better. Where was the real debate? Where was the censuses gathering? How many publishers, retailers, libraries, authors, agents were polled or asked in the last year to vote in the deal?

There has been a marked silence in many quarters.

It is good to see that Publishers Weekly surveyed a cross section of opinion and published its findings in a well structured report yesterday, ‘ Unsettled: The PW Survey on the Google Book Settlement’. The analysis and comments make good copy and show that whatever side you are on, whatever reservations you have, however strong your conviction is, the settlement does carry the majority of the vote cast. But where were the other surveys, even of members of trade bodies within the US and outside but still effected?

PW survey is recommended to all. In its opening conclusion it states:

'Your take on the results of our survey may differ our take is this: there is simply too much confusion and too little support for anyone to feel comfortable. For us, the survey highlights a fundamental question: for all the good and bad scenarios raised by the deal, was it ever reasonable to think that such a revolutionary, unprecedented pact, negotiated in secret over three years by people with loose claims of representation, concerning a wide range of stakeholders, both foreign and domestic, involving murky issues of copyright and the rapidly unfolding digital future, could be pushed through as a class action settlement within a period of months, in the teeth of a historic media industry transition?...'

Whatever the outcome next month, the industry needs to learn how to build consensus, communicate and listen and not be led like sheep by a few 'who know best'.

1 comment:

Michael W. said...

Unfortunately, this settlement is diverting attention from what needs to be done--modernizing international treaties to make them compatible with the digital age.

Take the oldest and most respected of the treaties, the Berne Convention, which has been signed by 164 countries. It was first accepted in 1886 Berne. As Wikipedia notes: "The Berne Convention was revised in Paris in 1896 and in Berlin in 1908, completed in Berne in 1914, revised in Rome in 1928, in Brussels in 1948, in Stockholm in 1967 and in Paris in 1971, and was amended in 1979."

That's eight revisions or completions in 93 years, or an average of one every 11.6 years. And yet we have now been a full 30 years without a single revision, despite enormous changes in how intellectual property is created and distributed. Is it any surprise the copyright law is in a mess?

The settlement needs to be tossed out, if for no other reason than that no author should be forced to try to make sense of its 300+ pages of confusing legalese. Then the countries of the world can sit down someplace pleasant and negotiate a treaty that's fair to all and doesn't unduly favor a single corporation.

I've read Berne. It's precise and detailed, but it's also a thousand times easier to understand than the Google settlement. We don't need the settlement. We need Berne revised and completed.