The Five Biggest Problems with the Google Book Settlement
(If you don't know anything at all about the Google Book Settlement, check out our interview with James Grimmelmann.)

Professor James Grimmelmann's "Public Index" is now up and running, a Microsoft-funded website dedicated to providing as much information as possible about the Google Book Settlement for the curious and confused, in addition to helping people draft their own amicus briefs by providing a wealth of source documents. Additionally, the Index provides helpful forums where the unwashed masses can more sharply hone their contrarian opinions about Google's vision for the future of books.

From the "Public Index" home page:

"The lawsuit and its proposed settlement have generated their share of controversy. This is a site for everyone, dedicated to no particular point of view other than the advancement of dialogue and understanding. We hope that the site will help the settlement's fans and foes dispel misunderstandings and find common ground, and that those who have not made up their minds will find the facts and explanations they need to reach informed decisions for themselves."

If you are interested, you can also now listen to a creepy webinar sponsored by Google (but without a Google representative) in which all of the key players in this settlement (the Author's Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and the Book Rights Registry) strongly urge authors to "do nothing" to stand in the way of the settlement while also answering no important questions.

(The webinar is free, but you have to register with Publisher's Weekly for access. All my fake information got me through the door, though.)

The words "orphan books" are not mentioned once in this webinar, nor are the phrases "monopoly" nor "censorship." The dude from Bertelsmann just goes on and on about how when your horse gets loose from the barn, you have to saddle that horse and ride. It's a puzzling and upsetting bit of propaganda.

Here are the five biggest problems with the Google Book Settlement, according to the Fiction Circus:

1). Google gets special rights that no other electronic publisher will have. Namely, the freedom to scan and host any out-of-print, in-copyright book and profit by it, without getting sued by rightsholders who may not discover what has happened until decades later. Corporations should not have special publishing rights that individuals do not have.

2). Google will be able to keep books out of its database for both "editorial" and "non-editorial" reasons, both of which are kept secret. If they want to ban a book because they think it is controversial (keep in mind that they are getting the rights to the world's biggest collection of porn), they have to tell the "Rights Registry" (a body they are funding and creating), but they don't have to tell the public. This keeps Google from looking bad when they ban books that we all believe -- as free Americans -- that everyone ought to have a chance to read. The Rights Registry can choose to find another electronic publisher or not, making Google's free and open library much more like a YouTube-style content management system.

3). Google can also choose to ban a book for "non-editorial" reasons and not tell a goddamn soul. They can simply disappear a book for "quality, user experience, legal, or other non-editorial reasons." Could be anything. What does "legal" mean? What does "quality" mean? This is flagrantly disturbing.

4). The Author's Guild does not speak for any significant percentage of the authors included in this class, and does not have near enough power, clout, public goodwill, or money to stand up to Google. Why should we assume they got the best deal possible for authors? Stephen King single-handedly has more publishing leverage than the Author's Guild. Hell, Stephen King should hire John Grisham, and then we'd have a fucking case. If Google wants to make a deal with authors, they should have to make a deal with actual authors, represented by a body that solicits opinions and information from more than just eight thousand middling souls.

5). Philosophically, you shouldn't create a whole new market with a lawsuit settlement and then instantaneously put that market into the complete control of one enormous corporation. This was too easy for Google, and there is no reason to rush this. Those books aren't going anywhere. Most of them have been around far longer than Google or the internet. In five years, publishing will be a vastly different world and will have vastly different demands for electronic content. Why make drastic, game-changing decisions while the future is still so unclear? Why trust anyone who is insisting that you make those decisions, especially a corporation that intends to be direct competition for the publishing industry in a few short months by publishing books in "the cloud"?

Posted by miracle on Tue, 04 Aug 2009 14:46:57 -0400 -- permanent link

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