Monday, 7 September 2009
Tick the box if you do NOT want your book in our digital library… Katherine Roberts
As I write, the Google Book Settlement is gearing up for its fairness hearing in the US courts. This Settlement will affect authors and publishers worldwide, and in recent months authors have been bombarded by information that is at best confusing, at worst contradictory, and is still making my head spin even though one important deadline has now passed – that for “opting out” of the Settlement entirely.
Any author who had a book published in the US before 2009 and did nothing is now a part of the Google Settlement, like it or not… which is uncomfortably similar to having to remember to tick those tiny boxes hidden away in the small print if you NOT want your details shared with third parties (i.e. so they can sell them behind your back). Clearly, there is some advantage here for Google along the same lines. The trouble being I can’t quite work out what it is. Yet.
The other way of looking at the Settlement is that it involves some payment for the digital use of our books. That has to be a good thing, surely? Google claims to be building a digital library, so in future we might well look upon these payments with the same kind of gratitude as we do our share of the Public Lending Right for printed versions of our books. So I have broken a personal rule, and this time I did not tick the box. I “opted in”.
To me, you see, the Google Book Settlement is not about the stealing of copyright. It is about libraries. Since the advent of the written word, there have been libraries to collect and store knowledge. From the Great Library of Alexandria, to the British Library in London and other national libraries around the world, to the humble library in your local town, these are places where books in various formats are kept safe and loved. Whether these books are ancient scrolls, paper pages between glossy covers, or digital versions of our words, the important thing is that they are made available to the public because - correct me if I'm wrong - that is the whole point of publishing them in the first place. If our words are to survive the centuries, we NEED our books stored in more than one place, and preferably stored in more than one format.
The key word in the Settlement is “non exclusive”. Google won’t be the only digital library in the digital age, and nor should it be. Some of these libraries might choose to make their collections free to the public; others might charge a fee. But as long as systems exist, like PLR, to reward the creators of such works fairly for their efforts I don’t see the problem. The real issue seems to be setting up such a fair system in the first place, and that seems to rest in the hands of one man, Judge Denny Chin, who will preside over the fairness hearing in New York on 7th October.
I just hope I won’t regret not ticking that box!