Thursday, 21 April 2016

Google rips off writers

As a professional writer I want as many people as possible to read my stuff, but (except when I myself choose to make something freely available) I do expect to be asked, and even paid, when people want to copy it. Contrary to popular opinion, writers do not live entirely on fresh air.

I am therefore a member of the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society, which supports writers by, among other things, collecting photocopying fees from libraries and universities and sending it on to the writers. Once a year I get a very welcome cheque for somewhere between £50 and £100.

Google, it seems, does not give a nun’s wimple for the rights of authors, though it is happy to make large sums of money out of their work. I thought the following item, from the ALCS’s newsletter, deserved a wider audience, and where better to put it than on a blog that is run by Google?


ALCS News Bulletin: April 2016

Google wins book scanning lawsuit


The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Google in a copyright infringement case filed by The Authors Guild that has spanned eleven years.

Millions of books were copied by Google without prior permission as part of a digitisation project that allows small extracts of the works to be viewed online. This led The Authors Guild in the US to file its lawsuit in 2005.

Following the rejection by the courts of a proposed settlement and years of subsequent litigation, in October 2015 the appeals court ruled that Google’s activity fell within the ‘Fair Use’ doctrine prescribed by US copyright law. Given that the case involved copying on a grand scale by a large, commercial organisation, The Authors Guild hoped that the US Supreme Court would review the ruling. However, in its final decision yesterday, the Supreme Court resolved not to review the case.

Google has denied any infringement throughout the case, claiming that its digitisation project fell under ‘fair use’ of protected works and that it served the public interest. The Authors’ Guild has always expressed its concern that Google did not seek prior permission of the authors concerned and has long-argued that the project undermined authors’ ability to make money from their works.

Responding in a statement to the US Supreme Court ruling, The Authors Guild called the decision a “colossal loss” stating that authors should be paid when their work is copied for commercial purposes. The Guild vowed to continue to monitor Google and its library partners to ensure that the fair use terms acknowledged by the decision are not abused.

Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of The Authors Guild commented: “The price of this short-term public benefit may well be the future vitality of American culture… Authors are already among the most poorly paid workers in America; if tomorrow’s authors cannot make a living from their work, only the independently wealthy or the subsidized will be able to pursue a career in writing, and America’s intellectual and artistic soul will be impoverished.”

Owen Atkinson, Chief Executive of ALCS, commented on the ruling: “The digital environment provides unprecedented opportunities for accessing published content, creating new value for distributors and consumers. This is a success story written by authors and yet they are fading fast from the narrative. A fairer, more balanced approach is needed, one which recognises that content creators, such as authors, are the only truly irreplaceable link in the digital value chain.”


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