Authors Strike Back Against GBS

On January 22, the National Writers Union held its third and final briefing for writers still scratching their heads about the proposed Google Book Settlement. Those unable to attend in person can check out a recording of the event on NWU’s website here.

Just two days earlier, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the National Writers Union (NWU), and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and the Internet Society’s New York Chapter (ISOC-NY) jointly sponsored a separate workshop to discuss the implications for writers.  A recording of that event can be found here.

And last week, science fiction author Ursula Le Guin and 365 other authors have announced their intention to petition Judge Chin to ask that the U.S. “be exempted from the settlement”, and that “the principle of copyright, which is directly threatened by the settlement, be honored and upheld in the United States.”

At the Berkley event, noted legal expert, Berkley professor and GBS commentator Pamela Samuelson kicked off the presentation with a fair but succinct recap of the settlement to date and options available to the professional authors gathered in the room.  A good deal of time was spent on untangling the differences between opting out of the deal and objecting.

Beyond these binary choices, the crowd of professional communicators was (not surprisingly) flummoxed when they learned that, even if they did opt out of the settlement, Google would still likely scan their works.  That the onus was on the author to file paperwork and chase after the infringer to remove their books from the database – or rather, move them into a “dark archive” – did not go over well.

Next up was Cindy Cohn, Legal Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its General Council.  Cindy reiterated the reasons why the EFF had become involved in raising questions about the GBS, specifically on issues of user privacy and data retention.

While taking the time to clearly state her belief that a digital library would be a tremendous benefit for people all over the world (a sentiment the OBA agrees with whole heartedly) she expressed concerns about Google’s ability to track users’ reading habits and search history.

It was noted that librarians and bookstore owners have a storied past that includes fighting for patron’s privacy rights.  With a Google-operated global library, the ability to anonymously purchase or browse the book of your choice with the expectation of privacy would become a thing of the past.

Most poignant, however, was the general question of how such a thing could have happened?  How could all the authors in the room, who had never had a conversation with Google, now find themselves beholden to an agreement they were not part of and had no role in negotiating.

That Google had circumvented the normal policymaking channels and used the class action process to negotiate an exclusive deal was both frustrating and incomprehensible to the audience.

They are right to be upset.

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What Experts Are Saying About the Settlement…

Important Dates

December 14, 2009
Notice begins

January 28, 2010
Deadline for authors to opt out of the settlement

January 28, 2010
Deadline to file objections and/or amicus briefs

February 4, 2010
Deadline to file notice of intent to appear at Fairness Hearing

February 4, 2010
DOJ response

February 11, 2010
Plaintiffs move for final approval

February 18, 2010
Final Fairness Hearing

March 31, 2011
Deadline to claim Books and Inserts