Ask The Editor

September 8, 2009

How to understand the objections just filed in the Google settlement

The time has now passed for authors to opt out of the settlement. However, we can still hope that Judge Chin will decline to approve it in its current form.

Today was the last day to file objections and briefs, and those that were filed mostly focused on an issue originally raised by attorney-author Scott Gant: that most of the authors who will be bound by the settlement terms were illegally drawn into the class.

Let me, as a non-lawyer, explain my understanding of this, as simply as I can.

On the same day the settlement was announced, the Authors Guild amended the class action complaint to immensely expand the Plaintiff (allegedly wronged party) class from where it had been: all those with a copyright interest in a book in the U Mich library, where Google had scanned all the books.

The newly amended complaint, which coincided with the announced settlement,  included in the Plaintiff class EVERYONE with a U.S. copyright interest in a book, not just those whose books had been infringed.

Why do Gant and most of the current crop of objectors claim this is illegal?  Because a lawsuit’s Plaintiffs have to have a valid complaint against a Defendant. Those whose books were not scanned by Google have no valid legal complaint. They aren’t affected.

The effect when the Authors Guild amended its complaint to expand the Plaintiff class was to sweeten the deal for Google, the Defendant. It gave Google the future right to scan books it hadn’t yet scanned and to circumvent copyright law (and, apparently, privately negotiated book contracts), and gain significant future control of all books.

In exchange, the Authors Guild got whatever it negotiated from Google, which we don’t (and probably won’t) know.

That’s a commercial transaction, not a settlement of a legal claim. And that’s the theme running through objections filed earlier by Scott Gant and today by Microsoft, Yahoo, Consumer Watchdog,  and a group of authors called the Bloom objectors.

Shorter explanation of the objections’ basis: it’s as if Search Engine X infringed my copyright but not yours. But in settling the case, I made a deal with Search Engine X that it could have your future rights along with mine, in exchange for something else I wanted.

Do you think it would be fair for you to be forced into such a deal? I don’t either. And, aside from a dozen other arguments that could be made, I hope that Judge Chin recognizes the inherent injustice of such a deal and stops it right there.

- Anita Bartholomew

April 9, 2009

AP vs web aggregators, part 2: Could newspaper failures have been prevented?

After writing the earlier post on the AP’s claims of copyright infringement by news aggregators and others, I found this article in Business Week. And it says pretty much what I surmised about the AP’s motives:

In a largely overlooked aspect of its battle with Google and other aggregators of news content, the AP plans to build an online destination where it hopes Web users can easily find and read its news stories and those of other content creators. When it comes to compiling online news, the AP wants to out-Google Google. The Web search giant “has a wacky algorithm” for collecting news stories, AP Chief Executive Tom Curley says in an interview. “It does not lead people to authoritative sources.”

So, the AP does intend to compete with Google News or maybe, try to shut it down (fat chance).

Let me say that, as a writer and editor, I am horrified at how many newspapers have failed (and still may fail). But the AP’s current position highlights the awful truth:

It could have been prevented.

All the news organizations own the rights to display their content on the web. But they never devised sensible business models for doing that. Even after Yahoo, Google, MSN, Drudge, and everyone else figured out how to profit from linking to news on the web, those who were generating that news stood around, picking their noses.

Now, late, late, late to the party, the AP decides that it will become an aggregator too, with all its subscriber partners. But, competing against Google News et al is an outrageously difficult feat. (My home page is set to Google News; many cable and DSL providers set users’ home pages to their own news aggregation sites by default).

So, yes,  the AP probably now recognizes that it should have taken advantage of its own assets the moment others discovered value in them. But since it didn’t, and it can’t turn back the clock, it cries copyright infringement, hoping to shut down or maybe slow down the established aggregators and get its own go-to news site up.

Sad, stupid, and infuriating to think, as we watch this melodrama, that possibly, news organizations themselves could have become the equivalent of Google News, years ago, and saved the news.

- Anita Bartholomew

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