Dreaming of a Virtual Library: Authors Guild v. Google
Published: April 6, 2011
Your March 31 editorial “Google’s Book Deal” correctly points out that the landmark settlement between the company and authors and publishers would have “given new life to millions of half-forgotten titles collecting dust in out-of-the-way libraries.” But your discussion omitted several crucial aspects of the case.
We have a fundamental disagreement with Google: we believe that without first obtaining permission, Google is prohibited from copying books for commercial purposes. That’s why we sued. Judge Denny Chin, who faulted Google for “wholesale, blatant copying” without permission, seems to agree.
The settlement was crafted to bridge the broad divides among the stakeholders in the negotiations — authors, publishers, research libraries and Google. It would have provided financial benefits to authors of out-of-print books and made available a vast virtual library of those books.
Critically, when it came to “orphan works,” it would have collected and escrowed funds for authors (or their successors or estates). And it would have empowered any copyright holder to compel Google to remove or never scan his or her works without having to go to court.
We could have simply refused to recommend settlement and pressed our original demand that Google withdraw all its copyrighted material. Instead, we chose to propose an agreement that would benefit authors, publishers and readers.
The dream of a virtual library of out-of-print books is dead, for now. Perhaps a legislative route may be found instead; we hope that the settlement shows how it can be done.
President, Authors Guild
Chicago, April 4, 2011
A version of this letter appeared in print on April 7, 2011, on page A26 of the New York edition.