An independent publishing company
Wednesday November 30th 2022

Judge Rejects Google’s Collective Licensing Settlement

In 2008, in what became known as the Google Books Settlement, Google agreed to pay $125 million in a class action involving the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.  The money was supposed to go towards any and all authors who found that their copyrighted works had been scanned and sold or used by Google, without explicit permission.  Additionally, the settlement basically gave Google permission to do exactly that…scan and use certain copyrighted works.  Some of the reasons why Federal Judge Denny Chin recently found this to be unacceptable were that it basically gave Google control of this space (furthering their control of “search”), raised some privacy concerns, and forced third parties into royalty-style agreements with Google.

On the one hand, we support Google’s stated goal of scanning and exposing all written words.  They have argued that the world has sustained major losses of information in the past, such as when the famed library at Alexandria burned, destroying much of man’s written knowledge.  They suggest that by scanning every book in existence, they can help guarantee that no such loss will ever occur again.  You don’t have to convince me of the importance of proper backups (I started a backup company in 2005).  In theory, this is a wonderful and very important goal.

On the other hand, such a bank of knowledge should probably reside in the public domain, with copyrighted works being accessible to valid license holders.  It would seem that Google could work with the Library of Congress, or some other parties to hold te information for the public interest.  Additionally, there are already organization working to recognize and protect author’s rights, even on orphaned works (like the Copyrigh Clearance Center).  There are groups who advocate general copyright reform (The Open Book Alliance).  And there are groups using modern media and technology to help everyone think about copyright and creative works differently (Creative Commons).

As a pubishing company, we feel that copyright is incredibly important.  Most creative works represent a vast and prolonged effort on the part of the author or artist.  We work hard to protect the rights of our authors.  Too many authors, like too many musicians, artists and others, have been taken advantage of by their “partners” – virtually robbed by publishing companies.  We think the authors should hold the rights, and we should help them publish their works.  Once published, books often take on a life of their own.  We simply hope to help with that process, getting the words in front of the eyes of readers (in whateverform makes the most sense).  As the book is read, traded, discarded, found, donated, studied, debated, and loved, it will hopefully have a long life and pass into the public domain, at which point it should be free for all to access.

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