Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Google Settlement

All summer, while I was firstly immersed in the short stories I'm writing for a new collection and then up a mountain in Wales and away from all things literary, I'd have a knot in my stomach as it suddenly surfaced: before September I was supposed to make a decision about the Google digitization deal: whether to opt out. But opt out of what exactly? And what would be the implications of doing that, of losing the chance of having my out-of-print works aired once more? But would failing to do so mean that I'd be losing the copyright I now owned and giving it away to Google? There was something I was supposed to do to prevent this happening... For some reason I just wasn't clear: a quick read of the sheet of information I'd had from the Writers' Guild didn't really seem to give me an answer. What was going on? I'm accustomed to being able to skim such things and quickly grasp the gist, but this time I couldn't - and a quick look on the internet left me no wiser. Was I losing it? I'd have to put some decent time aside to investigate the matter. And then I didn't have the time... and now the moment for opting out has gone.

Well, now the US Justice Department has come out against the settlement as proposed, and Nick Harkaway articulates precisely on his blog why we should be relieved. As he says now on the Guardian books blog, there are good things about Google's library plan, but what was worrying was the method. Most importantly, as he says on his blog:
Google’s actions here are a massive rights grab, but more than that, the structure of the agreement is opt-out. If you don’t, you’re in. That’s a massive change. The default position of copyright has always been that if you don’t have active permission, you can’t use the material...

It’s true that copyright law is also a tool used by large companies to make large profits. It’s true that it is badly in need of reform. But short-circuiting the legislative process in a Class Action Settlement and creating an opt-out situation… that ain’t reform. That’s just kicking down the fences. It invites a situation where a powerful entity can flatten a small rightsholder

You come down from the mountain, and the law has changed on the plain...
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