I received another letter from the Google Book Search Settlement Administrator this week informing me that my rights will be affected by the proposed settlement of the class action suit against Google for copyright infringement by scanning books and other publications. I have been a de facto part of the class action lawsuit because I am the author of numerous books, chapters, and other publications affected by Google’s decisions to scan and sell copies of materials still protected by copyright.
The settlement has been supported by the Association of American Publishers—which represents major publishers—because it protects their interests, but it is opposed by the National Writers Union and the American Society of Journalists and Authors because it seriously degrades the rights and interests of those who actually write the content. The split between publishers and authors is not surprising because anyone who has observed the uneasy relationships between musicians, authors, scriptwriters and recording, publishing, and production companies immediate recognizes they have very different and competing interests.
Under the proposed settlement, the court will take away portions of my copyrights that were created under legislation and protected by international treaties and it will give them to Google. The only way for me to protect my rights is to take deliberate affirmative action to opt out of the settlement and to seek to enforce my rights against Google individually—not a great option since its capacity to hire lawyers and stretch out litigation is far higher than mine.
The Google settlement will essentially rewrite copyright law by allowing the company to use the material without permission, without negotiating how the material will be used, and without negotiating compensation and payment provisions. It is particularly offensive because the court will be saying the government doesn’t have to protect authors’ rights, but authors’ have to protect their own rights. This is a significantly different approach from that which prosecutors and courts have taken in the cases of music, game, and software file sharers who have violated copyright on the Internet.
The settlement disassembles the basics of copyright law without legislative consideration and essentially forces the results on rights holders. Its effects are far reaching. Not only does the settlement apply to U.S. authors, but it is binding to authors worldwide even if they are not aware their rights are affected by the suit.
The settlement turns copyright upside down. Instead of protecting authors’ rights, the proposed settlement asks the court to reallocate the economic and moral rights to authors’ work, to give Google rights to use their material, and to determine the compensation authors must accept. To make matters worse, the effect of the settlement essentially gives Google a monopoly over the scanned publications and does require the company to make them available to other online services that might offer them at different prices or with different compensation for authors.
The proposed settlement is theft—pure and simple—and its proponents want to ravage and rewrite authors rights so that Google's acts will no longer be defined as larceny. The result will reward Google for illegally appropriating material, hardly a message that society should want to send to thiefs.
If the court accepts the settlement, authors will be victimized for the sake a $150 billion Internet company and the world’s biggest publishers. Where is the equity and the justice?