The Authors Guild’s lawsuit against Google over book scanning is grinding on into its eighth year. After a settlement, an amended settlement, a rejection of the settlement, and a protracted procedural fight over certifying the case as a class action, it has made almost no substantive progress in front of Judge Chin. Meanwhile, the Authors Guild’s lawsuit against Google’s HathiTrust library partners has produced a definitive ruling from Judge Baer in little more than a year. What started as a sideshow has become the main event.
And what an event it is! The mainstream media were all over last week’s ho-hum settlement between Google and the AAP but have mostly kept quiet about yesterday’s ruling. In contrast, the Twitterverse exploded with news of the HathiTrust opinion and hasn’t quieted down yet. The Twitterers have it right: this decision is a big deal. There are so many winners from the decision, it’s hard to count them all: Continue reading →
In publishing, increasingly the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but as in the game of Clue, one needs to keep a scorecard handy to figure out who is the friend, and who the killer, in the Library versus the Conservatory.
One of the thinly disguised fault lines in the Google Book Search settlement was the latent tension between the authors, represented by the Authors Guild, and the publishers. The thorny issue of which party has prevailing digital rights to older backlist titles published at a time when contracts either neglected to mention, or weakly addressed, the future revenue possibilities of ebooks has consistently failed to be brought to ground. The conflict has spawned some of the most incestuous conflicts in publishing in recent years, either between traditional publishing groups and new publishing companies, e.g., Random House v. Rosetta Books, or between authors’ agents and publishers, e.g. Wylie v. Random House. In the Google Book Search settlement, arbitrating a distribution of revenues between authors and publishers from the books was such a cornerstone that it earned a pole position as the first appendix.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the primary authors groups – the National Writers Union (NWU), the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) – have united with the Authors Guild to decry the recently announced settlement between publishers and Google, which effectively ends the McGraw-Hill et al. lawsuit against the Google Books Library project. There is a touch of dark humor lurking, as the three groups making this announcement – the NWU, ASJA, and the SWFA – were vociferously in conflict with the Authors Guild through their participation in the Open Book Alliance while the Authors Guild was a party to the settlement proposals. Now that the settlement has been dashed, they are free again to common cause against the publishers. Continue reading →
Almost seven years ago to the day that the five of the largest publishers in the world filed a suit in a U.S. district court against Google, the AAP and Google announced that the parties have agreed to settle their litigation. Although publishing announcements seem tethered to the penumbra of the Frankfurt Book Fair, this is not “stop the presses” material: the publishers have been negotiating with Google for some time, even while the Authors Guild determinedly presses their class action engagement. But what is surprising, perhaps, is that so little has been apparently achieved by the publishers through these long years of uncertainty.
Publishers are left to opt-out of Google’s library-obtained dataset, and can now participate in commercializing older titles that Google has never ceased digitizing both in the U.S. and abroad, even if the rate of library digitization may be slowing. Acceptance of an underwhelming result which leaves nothing changed on the ground, as legal scholar James Grimmelmann of New York Law School notes, marks a pivot from 2007 when the suit was launched with a fulsome and righteous salvo: “Publishers bring this action to prevent the continuing, irreparable, and imminent harm that Publishers are suffering, will continue to suffer, and expect to suffer due to Google’s willful infringement, to further its own commercial purposes, of the exclusive rights of copyright that Publishers enjoy in various books …”.
Seldom has news of litigation against publishers demonstrated such differences in opinions. But as the Department of Justice signals that it may file suit in a case alleging that the largest U.S. publishers and Apple combined to set high prices for books, the shrill cries from publishers suggesting that “the end of retail competition for books is nigh” remain largely deaf to the myriad benefits for customers. If agency pricing is struck down, readers may once again see reasonable book prices from online retailers that years ago acknowledged that digital music and videos have a very different value than their traditional analogues. Continue reading →
Simon Barron at the Guardian made a disturbing observation about Google’s business practices this week, noting that Google recently announced it would be deleting all the content uploaded to its Google Video service by users (though after a public outcry, the company said it would find new homes for as much content as possible) in order to refocus its efforts on its core business of search. Barron feels this has bad implications for Google Books, which also comprises tons of content entrusted to Google’s care, and he worries Google could one day decide to reprioritize, jeopardizing all those book scans.
Here’s more from the article:
As a private sector company, the core aim of Google is to make money. The Google Videos situation shows that in order to lower expenditure and adjust its priorities, Google was willing to delete content entrusted to it by users. Libraries have trusted Google with millions of documents: many of the books scanned by Google are not digitised or OCR-processed anywhere else and, with budgets for university libraries shrinking year after year, may not be digitised again any time in the near future. Google acted admirably by listening to users and working to save the videos but entrusting such vast cultural archives to a body that has no explicit responsibilities to protection, archiving and public cultural welfare is inherently dangerous: as the situation made clear, private sector bodies have the ability to destroy archives at a whim.
Certainly we can’t trust Google’s promise not to “be evil,” but it would seem that the company believes in the Books project (it was one of Google’s founders’ first hopes and plans for the company), but what do you think? Are our book in jeopardy? Or is Google a safe library?
Borders Trouble: The city of Pico Rivera, CA has been subsidizing the rent for a Borders store. Now it’s closing down, but the city is still stuck with the rent. From the Whittier Daily News.
Walk And Talk With the Animals: Adam Hines’ remarkable debut graphic novel, Duncan The Wonder Dog–which details a world of thinking and acting animals–already a PW Best Book and recently nominated for an L.A Times Book Prize, has now been awarded the first annual Lynd Ward Prize for graphic fiction from the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.