Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Google, Legal Stuff » Someone Tell the Authors Guild: Google Books Is Good for Authors

Someone Tell the Authors Guild: Google Books Is Good for Authors

31 July 2012

From Reason.com:

Google filed a motion for summary judgment today in its battle against the Authors Guild, which wants the court to levy heavy fines on the company for the copyright infringements allegedly committed by the Google Books service. Speaking as an author myself, my sympathy here is entirely with Google.

This isn’t just a matter of principle. It’s self-interest. As a writer, I gain far more from Google Books than I could conceivably lose from it.

If you write the sort of books that require you to consult other books, then Google Books is a wonderful tool. I use it to search for phrases in books I already own, a task in which it outperforms virtually every volume’s index. I use it as a general search engine when exploring a new topic or looking for different perspectives on a contentious issue, and it often points me to useful material that I previously was unaware of.

Link to the rest at Reason and thanks to Lily for the tip.

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Google, Legal Stuff

15 Comments to “Someone Tell the Authors Guild: Google Books Is Good for Authors”

  1. Whenever I hear something about the Author’s Guild these days, I find myself thinking of Animal Farm, and the sheep chanting: “Four legs good, Two legs BETTER!”

  2. I have to say I love Google Book Search. I have found so many wonderful reference books that way. Since I peruse a lot of niche books–face it, not many people care about second century Roman Britain, much less the specific stuff like Roman military family issues–it can be really hard to find good sources. If academic books didn’t cost so freaking much, Google Books would have led me to purchase a lot of books I might not otherwise have found. (Instead, it leads me to check them out from the University library.)

  3. No, I think they have the right idea on this. Google decided to scan in books without getting permission, and with a sometimes cursory search for the rights holder. Sure, it’s a great resource. Sure, it’s a great search engine. But they are using someone else’s work for business purposes and not paying a royalty or fee for it.

    If it were my books being used, I’d be suing. I think Google is going to lose on this one, and the Guild is going to win the lawsuit.

    • Yeah, I think that this is, well, the flip-side of the DoJ suit thing going on. Whether it’s good for someone or not, Google didn’t follow the law, and should get their fingers smacked.

  4. This is the first I’ve heard of this lawsuit, and I feel torn.

    As a student, I adored Google books. It was an incredible resource. And I never gained access to the whole book, just excerpts. In fact, I actually ended up buying a couple of the books in order to get full access to them.

    So, in that way, it was good marketing.

    I also think the author of the article has a point – authors can use it for research, which benefits all authors, and it’s similar to libraries, which always have free copies of books available.

    However, it could be argued that libraries can only lend a book to one person at at time, not to infinite amounts of readers simultaneously. Libraries also ask for copies of books, they don’t just take them.

    And although I want to argue against the Writer’s Guild on principle, I can see why they want to protect their copyrights. I don’t like the idea of an author’s creative ownership being treated so casually.

    Again, I’m torn. But I suspect Meryl is right – the Guild will win on this one and Google will have to come up with a system to accomodate any author who is not in the public domain.

  5. As the spouse of a librarian who is very concerned about preservation and access, another downside to the Google scanning project is that some libraries have decided and others are planning to get rid of the paper collections that were scanned-including government documents.

    This is problematic for a variety of reasons. One, is that the scanned copies are often inadequate (missing pages, missing illustrations, etc), and once the scanned books are gone (and sometimes the books are destroyed in the scanning process) this means that we have shifted from a world with multiple print editions that were available to the public (maybe not as easily accessible–but still available and free) to a world were we are increasingly dependent on electronic copies held by a private corporation, accessible only to those with internet access and money to buy a copy. And if Google decides it doesn’t want to maintain these files (which they might do if they lose the suit) there is no guarantee the information will remain accessible.

    As a self-published author who makes my money from digital books, and who often does research using google books (just downloaded one today) I am not saying that what Google has done is inherently bad. But I do think that it is a very complicated issue, with potentially negative consequences.

    M. Louisa Locke

  6. Mr. International

    It’s a complicated case, but Google really did bad and the solution proposed sucks. The content providers get hurt both ways. I don’t disagree with the fact Google Books is useful. That said, I’d hate to be an author digitally stolen by them. Not getting paid is not fun.

  7. Let’s not forget that there was an earlier settlement that had been approved by the Author’s Guild, a settlement that I thought was detrimental to authors and only beneficial to Authors Guild lawyers. There’s no reason why they could not have negotiated a use fee with the Guild whereby Google paid the copyright owner (assuming he/she could be found, but that’s another issue) a fee based on views or whatever. The problem of who actually owns the copyright will have to be worked out. When we were trying to get the rights to make some copies of a Little Brown text, we spent a year going back and forth and finally threw up our hands because no one was willing to admit they had the rights and could sign off so we could reprint the book which had gone out of print and we wanted for a class. We WANTED to give them money. Had the book been scanned in by Google, we could have pointed students to Google Books which could have paid a fee to the Authors Guild or Copyright Clearance center and someone would have been paid. As it was, the students were deprived of a book, the author was deprived of money and no one was happy.

    • Interesting. This is an instance of cutting the nose off….etc.

      I also think students would pay a fee. I would have, when I was a student. Or Colleges or Universities could pay for student access.

      Seems to me there could be some creative solutions.

  8. I love the public domain side of Google books and use it frequently. I remember looking up the Constance Kent murder case after reading The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and finding not just a copy of a book about the event by the local vicar at the time of the murder but also a copy of a book that had belonged to an early 20th century true crime writer with his own handwritten notes.

    I rather hope this goes to trial because whoever loses will probably appeal and some guidance for future cases may come out of it.

    • Meant to add that I would never have seen those handwritten notes if I had to go to whichever library that book was available at.

  9. I’ve only used Google books a couple of times, but the snatches of information I found there was enough to show me that the book in question was exactly what I was looking for, so I bought it. At the hefty textbook price, I wouldn’t have dared buy it without seeing the excerpts to know it was what I was looking for. That said, if too much of the book had been available for free, I could definitely see that it would hurt authors’ royalties.

  10. Of course Google Books is good for authors! A precedent of having your rights ignored never leads to horrible things!

    I think most people would agree on two things:
    1. Google Books is a very useful tool.
    2. It isn’t the harm done per se that’s the problem, it’s the fact that a big, powerful company decided it didn’t need permission to take what it wanted (or didn’t try nearly hard enough to determine if the stuff had an owner).

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.