Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Digibooks Row

In a new move on a topic that may be of direct interest to readers of this blog, especially translators whose titles frequently go out of print, Google is currently preparing to finalize and fully implement its book digitization program. Having reached a $125m agreement with the US Authors' Guild and the Association of American Publishers aimed at finally settling the class action suit that raised serious charges of copyright infringement in relation to Google's Book Search, the company is now waiting for the court decision which will allow it to go ahead. As The Register notes, not everyone in the world of Web 3.0 (aka the "Data Web") is happy with the likelihood of Google acquiring what they see as a virtual monopoly on international library digitizing:
Having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier, for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers," [Harvard University libraries head Robert] Darnton wrote. "No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability."

Since trumpeting Darnton's words hither and yon, the press had been all but quiet on the matter. But then, early last week, Wired tossed up a blog post entitled "Who's Messing With the Google Book Settlement? Hint: They're in Redmond, Washington." The New York Law School recently asked the court for permission to voice its concerns on the matter, and Wired took enormous pleasure in pointing out that the law school's Google Book Settlement project is funded solely by Microsoft.


Eric Dickens said...

Being rather a layman in these matters, I was wondering what specific categories of books will be digitalised, and whether they would subsequently be available free on the internet, or whether the appropriate monies would be channelled to the author and translator.

As a translator, the amount of royalties I get on my Estonian translations is derisory and over a year, the sale of a few hundred copies pays me (and presumably the author) no more that a few pounds. Would such an author or translator rather his book were available on the internet so it will be read, or stick out for £2 a year? There is a vast difference between relatively obscure books and some bestsellers in the crime novel and sci-fi genres.

Swings and balances.

David McDuff said...

Hi Eric,

The best source of information and assistance for us U.K. translators in these matters is the ALCS. If you're not a member yet, I strongly recommend that you join. The ALCS can give you the data you mention in your comment, and can arrange to collect the royalties for you.