While there is a planned settlement between Google and the book publishers has been placed on indefinite hold, another legal battle by proxy has started in its place. As Google has partnered with many libraries at US universities in order to gain access to various works it wishes to digitize. However, several groups representing book “authors” have now filed suit against those universities, attempting to block both the act of digital lending and the orphaned Google project.
Here the suit is being brought by the Authors’ Guild, along with its equivalents in Australia, Quebec, and the UK, in addition to a large group of individual authors. In its sites are some major US universities, including Michigan, the University of California system, and Cornell to name a few. As it seems these libraries partnered with Google to get their book digitization programs up and running, where in return, Google has provided them with digital copies of the works.
Here is the interesting part as the suit seeks to block two separate efforts. In the first case, the universities in question have created a pooled digital archive of the contents of their libraries, maintained by the Hathitrust. From this trust, no one contests the idea that these works remain in copyright, or that the universities have rights to the non-digital forms of these books. However what the authors do object to is that the digital works are derived from an “unauthorized” scan, which will be stored in a single archive that is no longer under the control of the university from which the scan was derived. The suit also goes on to suggest that the security of this archive may also be suspect, and without care may allow the mass release of copyrighted work.
Yet a separate piece of the suit is a left over works project started by the trust which focuses on some of the tombs within this archive. As the group is trying to identify out-of-copyright books, and those where the ownership of copyright cannot be confirmed. Here, if they fail to locate and contact any copyright holders, and the work is no longer commercially available, the trust plans to provide digital copies to students without restrictions. As you might have guessed, this idea has not gone over well leading the executive director of the Australian Society of Authors, Angelo Loukakis, to say, “This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.”
While the authors’ coalition is pushing to see everything grind to a halt, keeping both Google and the libraries from any further scanning, along with ending the Trust’s orphaned works project and sizing the currently scanned works to “impound” it. However the question as to be asked is what we are losing by doing this, as while one can appreciate the concern of the creators of this work. There is still a significant body of work out there which maybe lost to time should this happen so is the devil you know or the devil that you don’t the best option.
The other big question is who owns the work, as in the person possessing the book, owned the “book” and had title (sort of) to do with what they wished with it. As let me ask you this, how many sales did an author lose to a library over the years? Or, how many times have you loaned a copy of one of your books to someone else to read stealing a sale and taking part in paperback pirating…