As most writers already know, the deadline for opting out of the Google Books Settlement is September 4th.
I stalled. I didn’t want to deal with this crap, so I ignored it in the hopes that someone would come along and deliver a legal smackdown to Google. (Germany is working on it, but not soon enough to make a difference on that 9/4 deadline. ETA: And Amazon too! Thanks, dqg_neal.)
I’m not a lawyer. There’s a lot about this issue I probably don’t understand, and I expect smarter people to come along and correct me on any number of issues. Let me start by pointing you toward some of those smarter people: Writer Beware’s Google Settlement primer and SFWA’s objection to the settlement.
Copyright law is a hotly debated issue. I feel that it’s flawed, but show me legislation that isn’t. Right now, that law says if I write something, it’s mine. I have the legal right to decide what’s done with it*. If you publish or repost it without permission, you’re breaking the law. Once the copyright term expires, the work enters the public domain, and you can do whatever the heck you want with it.
Enter Google. From what I’ve read and understand so far, Google decided copyright was more of a guideline than a law, conflating out-of-print with public domain, and going with a “Scan ’em all and let God sort ’em out” approach.
Naturally, there were objections. The Author’s Guild went to court and negotiated a settlement wherein authors whose works had been illegally scanned might be entitled to some small payment, and we would all be able to opt out of Google’s ongoing book scanning & sharing project.
This is where I get cranky. The opt-out project requires me to log into the settlement site, search for every book I’ve published (English and translations), as well as every variation of every book, not to mention every short story I’ve had published in any anthologies, and claim them all. I can then either opt out of the whole settlement, or opt in and specify what I’m allowing Google to do or not do with my work. In other words, the onus is not on Google to obey copyright law, but on me the author to tell them “Yes I really, really do want you to obey the law in respect to my work.”
Tell you what, Google. How about I head down to your HQ and start looting the building for all of the high-tech computers and equipment I can find. If you don’t like it, I’ll set up a form on my Web site where you can log in and tell me exactly what you want to keep. Make sure you provide the serial numbers for each item!
There’s a lot of discussion and commentary out there, and I’d encourage interested parties to read up. Jay Lake pointed to one post that takes an opposing view, which I think is also worth reading. (Though I’d argue that Mr. Lee’s complaints are better directed toward reforming copyright law, and don’t justify simply ignoring or breaking current law.)
You know, there are even some stories and books I wouldn’t have minded letting Google display on their site … if they’d bothered to ask first.
*Fair use is a whole other textbook unto itself, but I believe the Google settlement issue goes way beyond fair use.