The Google Book Settlement debate is heating up. Hundreds of millions of dollars are on the table. It seems like a lot of money until you remember that it is the entire future of writing and publishing industry that is being shaped.
In yesterday's blog post I wrote about business models in which artists give their work away for free. But here we seem to have a business model in which an artist's work is given away by someone else.
The crux of the matter is this - Google took it upon themselves to digitize huge numbers of books in order to offer them in whole or in part through the Internet. Some of these books would be out of copyright - in America if not in the UK. In other cases the copyright holders could not be found. And where a copyright holder could be found, some money might flow back to them from Google.
Although an author opt-out has now been offered by Google as part of the legal settlement, some authors are less than happy to have had so little say in the formation of the deal. There is also disquiet among the other Internet giants, who are presumably worried about the hold Google is going to gain over the digital distribution of books - which is surely the future of publishing.
Google has been parading supporters of the deal ahead of any final legal decision. One advocate apparently said: "We see access to knowledge as a civil right. Information enables individuals to learn, to create and to pursue their dreams. Access to knowledge defines the meaning of equal opportunity in a democratic society."
Hard to argue with that. Who would vote against spreading knowledge? Until you remember that the 'knowledge' being offered includes the creative work of individuals. You and me.
Is this the future of publishing: that all creative work will be accessed for free, and interspersed with adverts, from which revenue a trickle will return to the authors? Is the concept of copyright now so unworkable that this becomes the only way for artists to make a living?