Wednesday, 2 September 2009

NPR's "All Things Considered" on Google Books settlement

I was interviewed this evening (it was recorded a few days ago, actually) on "All Things Considered" about why, as an author, I'm opting out of the proposed settlement of the lawsuit against Google for its unauthorized scanning and electronic republication of millions of books -- including, I've learned, some of mine.

IMPORTANT NOTE TO AUTHORS: The final sentence of the NPR story as broadcast, at least in the Eastern time zone version, states that, "Authors have until September 8th to opt out." I believe that this is incorrect. Because of scheduled maintenance to the court's electronic filing system over the holiday weekend, the deadline for filing legal briefs has been extended until Tuesday September 8th. But no change was made to the opt-out deadline, which according to the official settlement Web site remains Friday, 4 September 2009. If you don't opt out by the end of the day Friday, you will be considered to have opted in, and will be bound by any settlement that is later approved. If you opt in, you can still file legal objections until Tuesday, but it will be too late to opt out after Friday. (I believe that this erroneous NPR story would, in itself, provide sufficient basis for a motion to extend the opt-out deadline until Tuesday, and I hope someone will make such a motion. But so far as I know, that hasn't happened yet. The final sentence of the NPR story about the opt-out date was removed entirely from the Pacific time zone re-broadcast, and from the version archived on the NPR.org Web site. Let me know if you need help finding a copy of the original version to support such a motion. I'll update this post with any new news about the deadline.) If you want to opt out, you can do so on the settlement Web site (most authors might also be considered publishers, so you may want to go through the process twice, once as an "author" and once as a "publisher") or by sending a letter postmarked by Friday to the settlement administrator. You can list your books and articles when you opt out, but you don't have to, and it's not clear whether it's advisable to do so. I didn't list mine. Reminder: I am not a lawyer.

As I told NPR's Laura Sydell in an hour-long conversation at the KQED offices in San Francisco, and in my article on Google Books and Writers' Rights ,the problems buried in almost 500 pages of legalese of the settlement and its appendices can't be reduced easily to a sound bite. Many of my objections to the proposed settlement have less to do with Google than with way the settlement would replace many of the terms of existing contracts between authors and publishers (not Google) for millions of books with a set of different terms for relations between authors and publishers -- different ownership of rights, different revenue splits, and different methods of resolving disputes (compulsory binding arbitration instead of a right of recourse to the courts). That's what I was talking about when I said on the air that, "Publishers have cleverly used this settlement to effectuate a massive claw-back of rights, of control, and of revenue share" from writers who, in most cases, currently own all rights to the electronic reproduction of the text of their books.

I also have objections to the lawyers who are claiming to represent all the authors in the world.

Excerpts from the interview with me were juxtaposed with quotes from Sergey Brin of Google, defending Gogle's high purposes. But as a corporation, Google's purpose is to make as much money as possible. As I told NPR, in a snippet that wasn't aired, "If Sergey Brin doesn't think this book scanning project is the most profitable thing he could possibly do with the money it's costing, he's either lying or admitting to a breach of his fiduciary duty to his stockholders." And when we want to build public facilities, we don't (or at least we shouldn't) conscript construction workers to build them without pay, the way that writers are being asked to hand over rights and revenues to publishers (as well as to Google) to make it possible to build a digital library without having to pay more than token compensation to the people who've actually written all those books.

Finally, I should note, since it didn't make it into the portion of the interview that was broadcast, that I actually have an excellent relationship with my publisher, grounded in personal respect and friendship with the whole team, including the person I negotiated my first book contract with almost 15 years ago and still deal with as publisher. They're a "writers' publisher" with far better rights and royalty terms for writers than most competing travel guidebook publishers. But they've been through several mergers and acquisitions by larger companies in the time that I've been dealing with the, and I really can't control who may buy out their rights under my contracts with them in the future.

There are links to more information about the proposed settlement (including links to many other writers' "Why I'm Opting Out" articles and blog posts) here on my Web site, and here from the National Writers Union, of which I'm a member -- and which I invite and encourage other writers to join (or rejoin, if you've let your membership lapse).

[Follow-up: I'll be part of a longer discussion of the same subject on KQED's "Forum with Michael Krasny" on Tuesday, 8 September 2009, from 9-10 a.m. PDT (noon-1 p.m. EDT). Outside the Bay Area, you can listen live on the KQED Web site, and join the discussion by phone or e-mail. Streaming and podcast archives will be available after the show.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 2 September 2009, 14:09 ( 2:09 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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