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Google book settlement opt out nears, do you know your (lack of) rights?

As the deadline for the Google Book Settlement opt out, as negotiated by the Author’s Guild, nears, all authors need to be aware of their (lack of) rights regarding this settlement. In my opinion, this is a terrible deal for authors and artists in general as it had not punished Google for illegally copying books and gives them license in to future to continue doing so.

Read the specifics of the deal here.

The best thing any author or concerned artist can do is to contact the US Attorney General’s office and let them know how you feel. They are currently investigating the settlement and if enough of us voice our concerns, they will step in.

A good friend of slouch and author champion, Kemble Scott, has recently begun circulating this letter on our behalf:

William F. Cavanaugh
Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Main Justice Building
950 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
July 21, 2009

Dear Mr. Cavanaugh,

I recently learned of your decision to open an antitrust investigation into the proposed settlement between The Authors Guild, et al., vs. Google, Inc.

As a published author whose work is at stake in this matter, I support your decision to launch this investigation. I have grave concerns about this settlement.

We’re in the middle of the digital transformation of the written word. At issue is whether the people who create content continue to own the rights to their work.

On the table is an agreement that attempts to settle this issue. And yet the two groups that have come to this settlement did not create any of the content. They are negotiating over the rights to work that neither of them owns. It’s fair to say neither party typed a single word or sentence in any of the books at stake.

Who put them in charge? I certainly did not, and I say that as a dues paying member of The Authors Guild. My membership does not give the Guild any legal rights to my books.

It’s my understanding that under federal copyright laws no one is allowed to copy, reproduce and distribute my books without my prior permission. That’s stealing. If someone steals from a store, they’re prosecuted for shoplifting. This settlement rewards the thief.

Some of my anger about this is personal.

I was at a dinner recently with a manager from Google where I was introduced as an author. When the issue of the settlement came up, he smirked and said, “Well, that will all be over by October.” He was amused that Google had taken content that didn’t belong to them, gotten away with it, and now would have rights to those books in the future.

Suffice to say, I was not amused.

As an author, I want my books available in the digital age. I see the value of having the world’s library searchable, and I want my books to be part of that. But we’re still early in the digital transformation, and it’s possible for this to happen and for content creators to retain all rights and be treated equitably.

For example, on May 18th, 2009 I released the first edition of my second novel, The Sower, as a digital book on Scribd. This venture makes my book completely searchable by all search engines (not just Google), and allows me to control exactly how many pages of content a researcher can have access to for free. If a reader wants access to the entire book, it can be purchased on the spot. I get to price my book for whatever I want, and I keep 80% of the proceeds.

That’s a far more equitable financial arrangement than anything in the settlement you’re investigating. Scribd has more than 60 million unique users per month, so it certainly doesn’t suffer from obscurity. And Scribd is just one company. There are others, and more will follow.

We all know what’s really happened in The Authors Guild, et al., vs. Google, Inc.

Google – the company that’s public mission statement is “Don’t be evil” – has used a small army of lawyers and nearly unlimited financial means to bully content creators with limited resources into submission. Writers don’t have the money to take on one of the richest corporations in the world. Even the biggest publishers are in financial crisis, and they can’t afford years of litigation.

I suspect the only place with the resources to stand up to Google is your office, the Department of Justice.

The Authors Guild, et al., vs. Google, Inc. is a settlement forged by intimidation and financial exhaustion. It must be stopped. If laws were broken, those responsible need to be held accountable.

Ownership of content must again be returned to the content creators. What’s the point of having copyright laws if breaking them simply ends up making a very rich corporation even richer?

While i don’t condone pulling a Google and copying this letter verbatim, i do, however, encourage you to echo the sentiment to Mr. Cavanaugh.

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