>There’s very little I can add to the ongoing Google Book Settlement Debate, other than to remark that I feel like a very small fish caught up in a tsunami. Do I go with the flow? If so, where will it take me? Or do I try to swim against it? Salmon can climb waterfalls after all.
If you’re not clear on what the debate’s about, there’s plenty out there on the net about it. Just Google “Google Book Settlement” (oh, the irony). In a nutshell, it’s about Google scanning out-of-print books in the US and making them available online. Sounds simple, but boy is it a can of worms. It’s not even started its run through the US courts and already it’s kicked up so much dust it’s hard to see what’s really going on. Suffice it to say the issues range from questions on how you both interpret and apply of the laws of copyright and intellectual property, all the way through to the future creation of a global digital library.
What do I care? Well, I’m an author with out-of-print material that falls slap into the terms of the settlement. What that means is that, unless I opt out today – and I do mean today because that’s the deadline – Google will consider my books up for grabs. So for example they could take my 1995 novel Dragoncharm and turn it into an online edition. Probably with adverts for dog food or lingerie interleaved between the pages. If I opt in (a decision I can at least defer for a while) I get to choose how much of the text is made available, and possibly to benefit from future revenue streams generated by the advertising, or by any other channel.
You might think opting in sounds good. In many ways it does … sort of. But there are lots of other things going on behind the scenes. The word monopoly springs to mind. And as an author with a vested interest in copyright law – we’re talking about one of the ways I put food on the table here, not to mention my fundamental moral rights as a holder of both intellectual property and copyright – I resent the fact I’ve got to make a choice about doing business with an organisation that I’ve never sat round a table with. This particular point (and the entire debate actually) is articulated incredibly well by Nick Harkaway on his blog.
So do I opt out today, or leave myself the choice of opting in later? If I do neither, Google will probably scan my work anyway. Can I really swim against the current? As Nick remarks on his blog, “Even now, there are thousands of really good books which are not getting written because everyone is so sodding stressed about it.”