Saturday, 9 May 2009

Google Book Settlement - the saga continues

According to Dagens Nyheter journalist Juan Flores, who seems to be the man on the case for that particular Swedish daily, Bonnier has become the first large publishing house in Sweden to dispute the Google arrangement. Bonnier's company lawyer, Dag Wetterberg, will be quite busy right now, as Google has evidently scanned some 60,000 titles by Bonnier authors, and in 6,000 of these cases the whole book has been scanned. Bonnier is being offered a lump sum of a million Swedish kronor (i.e. about €100,000, slightly less in sterling) for this monumental control of titles, which Bonnier thinks is far too little money for far too much long-term power.

It would seem to outsiders like me that this is becoming a rather hubristic exercise on the part of Google. It also looks as if Google has been scanning thousands, maybe millions of books, if we extrapolate from the Bonnier case, on the sneak, hoping that they will be able to do something with these scans that will afford Google a profit. According to the Bonnier lawyer, Google seem to have been scanning away at U.S. universities that have Swedish departments (well, no problem in the UK, there aren't many...), and this could mean that every Swedish book bought by these universities before the beginning of 2009 can end up on a Google data base.

The Bonnier lawyer does not appear to be a Luddite, merely wondering who is going to profit from all this. Obviously, it is a great boon for books to be scanned, should the originals be destroyed by accident or war. But I hope that European publishing houses will wake up to what is going on, before they find out that, by doing nothing, they have signed up to wholesale control of their publications by Google.

The other large Swedish publishing house, Norstedts, has not yet come to a decision as to how to tackle this issue.

I do get the feeling that this whole issue has been handled badly by the various players, leading to a situation where publishing houses worldwide are suddenly finding themselves in an opt-out position, never an enviable one to be in.

1 comment:

David McDuff said...

I think it's indeed the case that a lot of publishers and authors worldwide are only now suddenly waking up to the reality of what Google has done, after they ignored it for too long. It's significant that Swedish doesn't even seem to have a commonly accepted word for "opt out", as Flores uses the English expression in his report.

The Register has a post about the conference that was recently held by a group of U.S. state attorneys to discuss the Book Settlement with the U.S. Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. As one poster points out in the comments:

Google says they have the rights. You scan and make a copy of an orphan work and put it on the web. Google then sues you claiming that they have the rights to the 'orphaned work'.

Google may not have the rights, but it will cost you a lot of money defending yourself and it doesn't stop google from making money from the 'orphaned works'.

If anything the US LoC [Library of Congress] should take over and make orphaned and public works available for free.