Writers everywhere are relieved that Judge Denny Chin has tossed out a second settlement attempt in the Google Book Search suit. Judge Chin, ruling in the Southern District Court of New York, yesterday rejected the settlement plan, saying it would have given Google "significant rights to exploit entire books, without the permission of the copyright owners." The plan went far beyond compensating wronged authors and had morphed into a "forward-looking business arrangement," Chin said.
Thank you, Judge Chin, for hearing the many writers who sought redress. Last October, Google announced it had scanned some 15 million books, all without permission of the copyright holders, who often are the authors.
"All along, we've been saying it can't possibly be right or legal for an American court to bless Google's plan to profit from stolen books," said ASJA president Salley Shannon.
Hundreds of individuals, organizations, corporations, the attorneys general of many states, the Justice Department and a long list of foreign governments have objected to both versions of the settlement. The parties haven't listened. "Now one courageous judge has looked grabby Google in the eye and said NO. Powerful as you are, you cannot profit from riding roughshod over the rights of individuals," said Shannon.
Judge Chin declared "a copyright owner's right to exclude others from using his property is fundamental and beyond dispute." He affirmed that Congress should write copyright law, not a court or "self-interested parties." He denied Google the exclusive right to sell "orphan books," those whose authors (theoretically) can't be found, noting that blessing such a plan would hardly give Google an incentive to find those who wrote them, so they could share in profits.
ASJA joins Judge Chin in urging the parties to let writers "opt in" to any future settlement plan, and stop trying to force them into the fold willy-nilly. That's always been ASJA's solution.
Of course we applaud the goal of a worldwide, searchable, digital library -- but it wasn't in this settlement. Instead, we saw a digital bookstore designed to sell books Google obtained by callously disregarding writers' rights. We create the books, which are our livelihood, but Google thinks trampling us doesn't matter. Frankly, that's evil.
ASJA is the only professional association focused on independent nonfiction writers, an often isolated segment of the media world. Members share expertise, ideas, opportunities, and inside information critical to success in a constantly changing environment. Through services such as a member-to-member rights and fees database, contracts and grievance guidance, and diverse educational programs, ASJA membership gives writers the confidence and connections to prosper. For more information on ASJA, contact the Executive Director, 212-997-0957