Friday, September 04, 2009

Google Book Settlement

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?


Darach said...

If I had a choice of any major internet company doing this, it would be Google. There's a lot of negative coverage, claiming that Google will essentially become the only information provider. I don't believe the deal is exclusive, so in principle, I guess any major company could strike their own deal too, or a government for that matter. At least Google committed the resources and interest to do this. And I honestly believe Google started the project because they were curious and felt it was needed. There are a number of slightly peculiar things about this deal, including who represents authors interests. But ultimately it must be done, and I'm glad people with drive and intellectual curiosity are starting to shove things around. Copyright law needs some shoving.

Rod Duncan said...

Hi Darach,

Thanks for the comment.

I do like Google. I like the way they provide their own intellectual property for free. Their own intellectual property.

And yes, given the choice between Microsoft, Apple and Google taking over the future of publishing, google would be my first choice, followed by Microsoft with Apple coming a distand last place. But I am uneasy about any one company having THAT much hold at such a critical moment of change.

Still, that is the way it is. So we will just have to sit back and watch what happens.

Mosher said...

This issue was covered for a while on 5Live yesterday and one point was made which does knock Darach's argument.

Google is growing. Massively. It has many arms/wings/departments of which this book digitising thing is just one. Like Darach, the interviewee said that of the available companies, Google is the "preferred" one for doing this.


There's every chance that at some point, Google might have to be split up for anti-competitive (or other) reasons. This department could be hugely profitable and therefore desirable by a third party who could purchase it and run it in a less "nice" way afterwards.

I'm not affected - I'm a consumer not a writer - but I do see where the worry comes into it. I also despise the easy "opt out" solution Google have gone for. If it's not good enough for spam then it shouldn't be used for this. It should be opt-in.

Rod Duncan said...

Interesting points Mosher. Thanks.

I guess it makes little difference what we think, one way or the other. The pattern of the future is being set. Like it or not.