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September 10, 2009

Google settlement an “end run around copyright law” says Register of Copyrights

Finally, Congress is reviewing the settlement. Where have they all been until now?

From a report in The Wall Street Journal:

The head of the U.S. Copyright Office told Congress on Thursday that she had serious concerns about Google Inc.’s (GOOG) legal settlement with authors and publishers who sought to block the company from scanning books and making them searchable online.

Marybeth Peters, the register of copyrights, said in written testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that the Copyright Office was particularly concerned that the settlement would allow Google to display and distribute out-of-print books without prior consent from the copyright owners of those books.

“To allow a commercial entity to sell such works without consent is an end-run around copyright law as we know it,” Peters said.

“In the view of the Copyright Office, the settlement proposed by the parties would encroach on responsibility for copyright policy that traditionally has been the domain of Congress,” she said.

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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

August 11, 2009

Authors Guild sends authors another misleading letter about Google settlement

You have to wonder why, if the Google settlement is as good a deal as the Authors Guild keeps insisting it is, the honchos over there keep misleading their members when attempting to gain support.

Any settlement worth signing onto doesn’t need to be spun, finessed, or made to appear something it isn’t. If it’s worth signing onto, you simply list the actual benefits. You don’t pretend authors will get benefits that the settlement doesn’t, can’t, and won’t give them.

Although I was once a member of the Authors Guild, I am no longer. But friends do forward the emails they get. And I found the text of that email, inviting all authors and agents to a free teleconference this coming Thursday, on the AG website.  I don’t have the time to fact-check everything, as it would require me to dig through the settlement agreement again, but here are some obvious whoppers I spotted that required no new research:
AG CLAIM: the only way to ensure that your book will not be completely removed from the database, and thus benefit from Google search, is not to opt-out.

AB RESPONSE: False. As I’ve written ad nauseum, just sign up for the Google Books Partner Program and you will be in Google search — but you won’t be locked into the settlement terms.

AG CLAIM: The settlement offers a 63/37 split** in your favor … It’s a good deal. For comparison: Amazon buys e-books at a 50% discount from publishers. If you’re a self-published author, the split is 35/65 — in Amazon’s favor. Newspapers face a 30/70 split — again in Amazon’s favor — for electronic distribution of their content.

AB RESPONSE: Misleading. Here’s what the AG isn’t telling you about the above “good deal.” You’re not getting 63%. The Book Rights Registry takes delivery of that 63 percent, and takes its cut off the top. The BRR’s cut is unknown, and unspecified in the settlement. Estimates are that it can be anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of that 63 percent. Whatever is left after the BRR takes its cut goes to the publisher which then parcels out your share to you. What will that share be? Whatever your contract says it is.

Not exactly sounding like a 63 percent share any longer, is it?

AG CLAIM: Want to negotiate a different deal with Google?  Turn off all display uses of your works and go for it.  At any time.

AB RESPONSE: Huh? You can’t re-negotiate the terms through the settlement, of course. Those terms are set in stone if/when the settlement is approved. Unchangeable. Approved settlement = done deal.

So, I wondered what on earth the AG was up to with the above claim.  As I keep saying, you certainly can get better terms through the Google Book Partners Program if for no other reason than you won’t have the BRR as a silent partner, skimming off the top. (Fun fact: 50 percent of the BRR will be appointed by the AG).

The Google Books Partner Program is the only current way to get a better deal from Google in its book search and scanning venture, to my knowledge. And you can be in both the program and the settlement. Here’s what the settlement FAQ says:

Can I participate in both the Partner Program and the settlement?
Yes. You can choose to participate in the settlement and its revenue models for one or more books even if you are already a participant in the Partner Program. The Partner Program agreement, if applicable to a particular book that is also included in the settlement, will govern Google’s treatment of that book to the extent the Partner Program offers the same uses or revenue models as the settlement and any prohibitions imposed by the Partner Program agreement on Google’s uses will apply.

So, the only thing I can figure, re its re-negotiation claim,  is that the AG will suggest, during its free conference call on Thursday, that you opt in, tell Google not to display your book, then sign up for the Google Books Partner Program.  But, if I’m reading the FAQ right, the catch is that, once you’re in the settlement, you’re stuck with the same terms, or as the FAQ says, the same uses or revenue models as the settlement.”

If that’s the strategy AG plans to offer in its “go for it” re-negotiation recommendation, my brain hurts just thinking of the convoluted reasoning.

Why on earth would you give up your right to sue if Google oversteps, bring in a partner who’ll take an unknown percentage of the proceeds, sign a hundreds-pages long agreement you probably don’t understand  … just to seek the better deal that you can only get outside the settlement?

Can’t wait to hear what they say next.

– Anita Bartholomew

June 23, 2009

“The View” star accused of plagiarism

Susan Hassett, a self-published author of a book on celiac disease, claims that “The View” star Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book on the same topic borrowed heavily from hers.

Hassett’s lawyer’s letter to Hasselbeck, which you can download at the TMZ site, cites a number of similarities.

There’s one line in each that jumped out at me. Each book talks about how shoppers should “shop in the outer isles [sic] of the supermarket.”

I can’t and won’t pass judgment on the claim as a whole but, how likely is it that both authors would misspell the word “aisles” in the same way?

Hmm.

– Anita Bartholomew

April 28, 2009

Judge grants request for extension in Google settlement

Attorney Andrew DeVore had asked that the deadline for opting out or objecting be extended to September 7, 2009.  Although class action attorney Michael Boni asked that the extension be half as long, the judge has, apparently, ruled for the full four months:

In a surprise move, New York Judge Denny Chin today granted a four-month extension to a group of authors, led by Gail Knight Steinbeck, delaying the May 5 deadline to opt out or object to the Google Book Search settlement to early September. Although the order had not yet been made public at press time, sources confirmed for PW that Chin had granted the extension.

Google opt-out deadline still May 5th but court hears request for delay

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week, a group of authors and their representatives filed a request to delay the May 5 deadline. The motion filed April 24, by attorneys representing The Palladin Group for John Steinbeck and Thomas Myles Steinbeck, Catherine Ryan Hyde, The Philip K. Dick Testamentary Trust, Arlo Guthrie, Michael W. Perry, Eugene Linden, and James Rasenberger, asked the court for a four-month extension, with October 7 marking the new opt-out deadline, and with the hearing, now set for June 11, to follow at the court’s discretion.

Meanwhile, in response, attorney for the publishers’sub-class, Michael Boni, said the authors’ complaint was without merit and asked the court to reject it. However, Boni, said that “independent of” the authors motion, “plaintiffs and Google are amenable to a 60-day extension.”

The article goes on to quote New York Law School professor James Grimmelman saying that an extension is unlikely to be granted while the attorney presenting the request for the delay, Andrew DeVore, said that such a delay was necessary. DeVore pointed out that the Google settlement is “not a typical class action settlement,” because it’s not primarily about compensation for past injury but about future rights.

I’d point out that while the Google settlement is, indeed, not typical for class actions, it took its lead from an earlier class action that grabbed future rights from all affected writers for periodicals, essentially overriding copyright law by granting the Defendants future rights in all the works affected. In that class action, too, writers were “represented” by class action attorney Michael Boni, supported by the Authors Guild.

To haul out an old cliche, with friends like Boni and the AG, writers really, really don’t need any enemies.

– Anita Bartholomew

April 13, 2009

Where to get a better deal than the Google Settlement? From Google.

Several writers I know have responded privately to my posts about the Authors Guild’s settlement with Google saying that they will stay in because they believe that the future of the book is electronic. And they want their books to be part of that future.

They’ve been misled into believing that those are their only choices: take the deal or have your work erased from cyberspace.

Wrong.

You can make a better deal. Google has one that’s ready-made for you, outside the settlement.

First, opt out of the settlement. Then, if you want to make your book accessible via Google, on the web, join the Google Books Partner Program.

Your books will appear where they would have appeared if you opted in to the settlement. But this way, you keep all your rights. And you can even add a “buy this book” button to the display page of your book if you offer the book for sale at your own site.

Remember: Google wants to scan your books. Just because the class action attorneys gave Google all sorts of extra rights (taken from you), doesn’t mean you have to roll over and play dead. Turn down the bad deal. Take the better one offered by the Google Books Partner Program.

“The Google Books Partner Program is a free marketing program that enables publishers and authors to promote their books online, through Google Book Search. By submitting a digital or physical copy of your book to be displayed online, you’ll make it discoverable to Google users from around the world.”

And yes, you can earn income from this –  Google shares the majority of its ad revenue with you –  and it’s probably more than you would get through the settlement. That’s because, in the Partner Program,  you deal directly with Google,  instead of with the Books Registry being set up to administer payments from future revenues via the settlement.

Use this form to sign up. You’ll need to mail a copy of your book for scanning but you can cancel your account at any time.

Here are some of the benefits of the Google Books Partner Program vs the Google Books Settlement:

  1. You send your book to Google and request that Google scan and display the book but, unlike opting in to the settlement, you can withdraw from your relationship with Google at any time.
  2. You get the majority of the revenue from ads appearing on the same page as your book. Contrast that with the settlement where, although you get 63% of the profit, that may be less than you believe. Some experts, including literary agent Lynn Chu, speculate that as much as half the revenues will be used for administrative costs of the registry before you see your share.
  3. You can include a “buy this book” link as long as it links back to your site, not that of a third party, for purchase. So,  if a preview hooks a reader’s interest, you get to sell the physical copies of your book.
  4. In the Google Books Partner Program, you don’t give up any of the rights, written into copyright law, that you now have.
  5. Unlike the settlement, you are not locked in for the life of the copyright.
  6. If something goes sour with Google, you aren’t forced into binding arbitration. You retain all your rights to sue in court.


– Anita Bartholomew

The Register of Copyrights weighs in on Google settlement

Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights (the person at the United States Library Of Congress in charge of the system that maintains records of who owns which copyright), has many things to say about the Google settlement. She was the first speaker at the conference Columbia Law School held in March on the settlement. The video of the conference is online.

As I was able to pause the video in order to transcribe parts of her speech, I learned (and will share) a great deal about her views that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere.

The first point she made, and the one she returned to many times, is that she’s troubled by the use of class action lawsuits to grab future rights because they are, in essence, legislation via litigation:

“I do believe that class actions generally look backward and settle infringements that have been in the past. And typically, when you go forward, it’s typically the prerogative of Congress, the legislative branch, to decide what the rules should be. And when they do that, they think of things like, ‘Are we meeting our treaty obligations?’ ‘What about the public interest?’ And everybody has an opportunity to be heard.

“And the question is, when you have a private agreement where there are private solutions that are in the nature of legislative action, resulting in something that would be a legislative action, is that a good thing?”

But does this settlement (and the earlier one, granting licenses by default to the defendants in the case now before the Supreme Court, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, No. 08-103) really change copyright law? Yes, by creating exceptions to the law that encompass almost all of the literary works that would be subject to it.

And the way such settlements change the law is particularly troubling. The infringers, i.e., the wrongdoers, the ones who should be paying steep penalties to deter them from future wrongdoing, always come out the winners.

Peters paraphrased the analysis of the Google settlement by Brewster Kahle, the creator of the online Wayback Machine:  it creates new copyright laws and a new payment system, all to benefit a single monopoly, for access to the collective books of mankind.

Her own concerns about the agreement appear to mirror Kahle’s.

“One thing I do know is that the legislative process is what the Constitution had in mind with regard to copyright policy. There is a balance between encouraging creativity and rewarding authors. And it gave that power to the Congress. And the Congress does act, sometimes slowly, sometimes well, sometimes, not so well. But that’s the Constitutional balance.”

Peters also complained that there are many unanswered questions and the possibility of unintended consequences. (Several other speakers at the Columbia Law School conference, all experts on copyright, said they were confused about what the settlement really said).

What was clear is that the vast future license for Google troubles the person in charge of copyrights for the U.S.

It should trouble us all.

The above is part 4 of a series of blog posts on the settlement reached between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to settle a copyright infringement case related to Google’s unauthorized scanning of books.

– 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

AP vs. web aggregators: Piracy? Or free advertising?

Filed under: Commentary,News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 9:20 am
Tags: , , , ,

The Associated Press (AP) is a news organization, owned cooperatively by other news organizations. News gathered by its reporters is distributed by subscriber news organizations: newspapers, broadcasters, and websites.

You’ve read plenty of AP stories although you may not have noticed that the AP was the source.

But, as newspapers die a slow, painful death, the AP is feeling the pain along with them. It’s decided that this isn’t death by natural causes. Nope. It’s slow poisoning. And the AP is pointing a finger, without actually naming names, at the web.

Okay, it’s true. The availability of content on the web is killing newspapers and nobody knows what to do about it. But the reason isn’t because content is free to readers. Nobody ever got rich from selling the paper itself. What made newspapers viable were the ads they sold. Classified ads, especially, that they could sell at huge profit in local areas because they were the only game in most towns. Then came Craigslist and there went most of the classified income.

Display ads, the other income generator, are still sold by news organizations and others on the web. But advertisers aren’t willing to pay the same rates as they do in paper media. A media honcho I spoke to about this said that, in the move to the web, advertising dollars became dimes.

So, the problem isn’t so much that the web exists or that content on the web is free. It’s that advertising is cheap (display ads) or free (classified ads).

That’s the poison.

Which is why the antidote that the AP has come up with isn’t the answer. It wants to crack down on what it calls copyright infringement by those who link to its content, maybe borrowing a headline and a line or two, without subscribing to the content.

In other words, it seems to be calling Google News, Yahoo News, Drudge, and various other web search engines, news aggregators, and websites, infringers (I say, seems to be,  because the AP isn’t naming names, just blustering about links).

But is linking and snipping actually copyright infringement?

The Fair Use section of copyright law is fuzzy but here’s a relevant portion:

…reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The problem with the AP’s claims of infringement are that, while Yahoo News, Drudge, Google News, et al, are commercial enterprises, reprinting a headline and a teaser snippet such as a sentence or two, isn’t substantial. But the bigger problem with AP’s claim is #4: the effect of the use upon the potential market.

Search engines and news aggregators that link to stories actually drive traffic to the copyright owners’ websites with those teasers and links. Google claims that it provides about a billion clicks a month from its links to newspaper articles. Clicks from other sites aren’t going to match Google but you get the point. The AP isn’t losing business from those clicks, it’s benefiting from the free advertising.  Aggregators and search engines are helping consumers find news that they wouldn’t otherwise find.

But the AP can’t make advertisers pay more on the web unless it becomes the go-to destination for all those searching for news on the web.

If that’s the point of this tantrum, it isn’t going to help the AP in that quest. It needs to figure out why people who are looking for news aren’t going to the AP and its news organization member sites first, rather than heading to the sites that provide links to the AP’s content. If it can’t do that then the AP’s proposed antidote to the web’s poison is actually more poison. And that self-administered dose could finish it off.

– Anita Bartholomew

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