I Hope This Is Not Seeming Too Inside-Publishing For You, I’ll Try to Make it Interesting
This article in Publishers Weekly really helped define the whole Google problem: tinyurl.com/ry5f34 Marybeth Peters, the US Registrar of Copyrights, strongly objected to the agreement because she felt that it took the whole matter of copyright out of the hands of Congress and made it a matter of a legal deal. And I think that captures the essence of what bothers me — above and beyond the particular matter of image rights. Remember the timeline: Google made deals with some academic libraries to digitize OP books. Seems great — preserves books, makes them available, no harm, no foul. But then the author’s guild did object, and the AG and Google worked out a deal to compensate authors, and to give them the chance to exclude their books. All very nice.
The problem is that deciding how to treat books in an online environment — out of print, in print, author alive, author dead, with images, without images — is a large and complex matter that really requires thinking about what is print, what is online, and what they should look like in the future. And matters on that scale really can’t just be handled by a deal, however well intentioned. There has to be a full public weighing of the issues. And that weighing should not take place in friend of the court briefs. It should be in open (dare I say Town Hall) meetings that lead to laws.
For all I know the deal Google agreed to is great for authors. But that is not the issue. Rather, we need to slow down and carefully discuss how to handle the digital lives of books taking into account all that means, then make whatever legal or financial deals are required.