Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[publishing] The Google Books settlement and your legislators

Anent my post earlier today about the miserable thievery that is the Google Books settlement [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], twilight2000 asked me via Twitter:
@jay_lake Is this the sort of thing that can be changed by new laws? Is getting our legislators involved a good idea?

My answer is, well, it's worth a shot, but probably not going to accomplish much. Here's why.

Two things move legislators. Money, and popular reaction.

The money is all on the Google side here. Overwhelmingly so. I am not implying Google has bought anybody off, merely saying that of the parties involved, only Google has the ability to swing meaningful weight through lobbying and campaign contributions.

Unfortunately, popular reaction is probably also on the Google side. What we're arguing about here isn't the indexing of the books per se. At least, I'm not. As someone said on an author's mailing list, if Google had come to us as authors and asked to do this on an opt-in basis, we'd have been falling all over ourselves to be included. What we're arguing about here is how copyright licenses are created, compensated and enforced. The Google Books settlement inverts the entire modern history of copyright, moving licensing from something controlled by the author (or other copyright holder) into something which can in effect be homesteaded by any entity large enough to not be concerned with individual lawsuits for copyright violation. Think movie studios, for example.

Most people don't know or care about that sort of thing. It's legal neepery of interest only to copyright holders and their publishers. What most people care about (if they care about this at all) is the ready access to a huge index of books, including many orphaned or out of print works. This is world-threatening to authors, agents and publishers, but it's a net benefit to most voters.

We can't swing money, and we can't swing public outrage. What are we left with? The biggest kid on the block playing bully, and all our agents and editors telling us we might as well take what we can get, because this can't be fought. And even though I support in principle what Google is trying to do here, the methods they've used, thanks to the Author's Guild and the settlement, are bullying, pure and simple, compounded by theft of copyright today and the potential for incalculable future economic damage to copyright holders.

Much as the Thor Power Tool decision had the unintended consequence of destroying publishing backlists for a generation, the Google Books Settlement has the distinct possibility of an unintended consequence of undermining or destroying author control of copyrights, and decimating the value of those copyrights.

And I don't see how our community can leverage legislators on this one, because we don't have money or popular appeal on our side. Advantage, the bully that is Google.

Do you agree with my analysis? Or am I mistaken?

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: books, culture, publishing

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