Ask The Editor

April 30, 2009

Authors Guild’s latest misleading statement on the Google settlement

Here’s what the Authors Guild sent to its members after Judge Chin granted an extension:

The court overseeing Authors Guild v. Google extended the time for authors and publishers to opt out of the settlement by four months, to September 4th (Judge Chin’s order). The fairness hearing will be on October 7th.

We don’t recommend opting out — this settlement is a good deal for authors, bringing their out-of-print books back to commercial life (while leaving the marketplace for in-print books alone, unless you and your publisher want to take advantage of the settlement’s programs for in-print books) — so this shouldn’t affect most authors. If you haven’t yet filed your claim, now is a fine time to do so. Go to www.googlebooksettlement.com and create an account to get started.

Let’s parse the above:

“We don’t recommend opting out — this settlement is a good deal for authors,”

No, it’s not. For past infringement, it pays authors a fraction of what they are entitled to under copyright law. For future use, it’s at best, a worse deal than authors can get on their own from Google. At worst, who knows? Most experts say that the terms aren’t clear.

“… bringing their out-of-print books back to commercial life”

You can both opt out and bring your out-of-print books back to commercial life via the Google Books Partner Program. You’ll get better terms (and probably more money) and, unlike those who stay in the settlement class,  you won’t give up any rights you now have under copyright.

“… (while leaving the marketplace for in-print books alone, unless you and your publisher want to take advantage of the settlement’s programs for in-print books) — so this shouldn’t affect most authors.”

The above is a false and misleading statement. The settlement will, indeed, affect most authors. If you are the author of a book that is still in copyright, and was published on or before Jan 5, 2009, you are subject to all the provisions of the settlement. Don’t take my word against the Authors Guild’s. The above link takes you to the FAQ at the Google settlement website. Being subject to the provisions of the settlement means, if you don’t opt out, several of the rights you now have under copyright law when dealing with Google will be erased.

The obvious questions are:

Why is the Authors Guild spinning the terms of the settlement — claiming that those whose books are in-print won’t be affected? And why won’t it acknowledge that authors can opt out and get a better deal from Google outside the settlement?

– Anita Bartholomew

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