In my latest Hot Type column, I ask whether all authors are created equal under Google–under the terms of the proposed settlement in the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers’ lawsuit against Google Book Search, that is. If you’re a professional author, by which I mean one who counts on book sales and royalties for income, you may feel just peachy about what the deal (if approved) could do for you. But a group of scholarly authors, led by a law prof at Berkeley, believes that their book-writing colleagues in academe don’t appreciate how the deal could affect research and scholarship. In a letter to the judge in the case, the group says their class of authors needs to pay more attention:
This is not a moment to stick one’s head in the sand, the letter writers argue: “It is clear to us that the settlement, if approved, will shape the future of reading, research, writing, and publication practices for decades to come.” Neither the Authors Guild nor the Association of American Publishers, weighted toward the commercial, “shares the professional commitments or values of academic authors.”
The letter writers don’t reject the deal out of hand. But they see provisions in it that “seem to run contrary to scholarly norms and open-access policies that we think are widely shared in scholarly communities.”
For the open-access-minded, there’s no mention of Creative Commons licenses “as alternatives to registration for payouts from Google” through the Book Rights Registry. Nor is there a clear definition of orphan works, those for which rights holders can’t be found….Privacy is a big concern; scholars’ use of books in the Google database could be monitored. The list goes on.
The academic authors’ letter appeared not long before the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries filed comments with the judge asking him to exercise “vigorous oversight” of the settlement if it gets the green light. The library groups applaud the idea of expanded access to millions of books, but worry that “many of the features of the settlement, including the absence of competition for the new services, could compromise fundamental library values, including equity of access to information, patron privacy, and intellectual freedom.”
More twists and turns ahead, no doubt, as the Justice Department looks into whether the proposed deal violates anti-trust regulations. Meanwhile, the final deadline for interested parties to file comments (and for authors to opt out of the arrangement if they care to) has been pushed back until September, with the fairness hearing in the case now slated for October.