Canadian writers leery of Googles proposed sales of out-of-print books

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - Google appears poised to give millions of out-of-print books a second life online but Canadian writers and publishers don't yet agree on whether that's good or bad news.
Publishers themselves seem enthusiastic but a major writers' group is far more cautious.
Last Friday, Google moved closer to settling a U.S. class-action lawsuit with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers by reworking a deal to let Google Books host scores of copyrighted out-of-print titles, offer previews of the content and make them available for sale.
The suit was started in 2005, as Google worked toward digitizing the archives of several libraries.
Some authors and publishers complained Google's actions amounted to "massive copyright infringement," while Google argued its plans were legal under fair use provisions of copyright law since it only planned to post limited snippets of the books online.
Both sides still disagree on the legality of Google's actions but hope the settlement agreement, which still requires court approval, goes forward.
"(It) would not only give authors and publishers new ways to distribute and control access to their works but also unlock access to millions of out-of-print books," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the U.S. Authors Guild.
The agreement would let American readers only purchase the newly digitized books but a Google spokesman says the service could be available in Canada sometime next year.
The Canadian Publishers' Council, which represents companies that produce fiction and non-fiction titles as well as reference material for schools, libraries and professional markets, is satisfied with a number of amendments made to the agreement and is eager to work with Google.
"The most positive thing is the potential for writers and publishers to increase the overall marketplace for their works, it gives them new ways and new places to distribute their books," said the council's executive director, Jackie Hushion.
"We decided to move forward as an association and seize an opportunity to participate . . . with Google and this has been a very good experience for us."
Sales through Google Books could mean a new revenue stream for authors and publishers but the Writers' Guild of Canada says any excitement it has about the opportunity is being tempered by "unknowns" in the agreement.
The union believes around 15 per cent of the books covered by the Google settlement were published in Canada.
"There are many details and advantages and disadvantages to the settlement and we need to know how they're going to play out through the American courts before we can really take a stronger position on it," executive director Deborah Windsor said in an interview.
In a letter distributed to its members Saturday, the union said it cannot currently endorse the deal, although it does address some concerns that had been previously raised.
More discussion is needed about licensing fees for libraries that offer free access to Google's stable of digital books, and about the sales of so-called orphan works, written by authors who can't be tracked down, states the union letter signed by chairwoman Erna Paris.
"Books already digitized by Google will become 'orphans' if the rights holders do not sign up . . . in order to claim them," states the letter.
"No provision has been added to the amended settlement agreement that would require rightsholders to sign up before further works can be digitized and licensed by Google."
The deal calls for the royalties from orphan works to be held for up to 10 years and if the rightful copyright holder can still not be found, the proceeds would be donated to literary charities.
Richard Sarnoff, co-chairman of Bertelsmann, Inc., which owns Random House, said the Google deal is not about "setting up the digital future of publishing."
"This is about not leaving these old out-of-print books behind in that future," he said.
Google Books is already accessible to Canadians, offering full access and downloads of public domain books and previews of more current works - with the publisher's permission.
For example, three of the five novels shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize are available to preview, including the winner, Linden MacIntyre's "The Bishop's Man."
The site also hosts back issues of dozens of prominent magazines including Billboard, Life, Men's Health and Women's Health and Popular Science.

Organizations: Google, Authors Guild, Bertelsmann, Inc. Random House Men's Health

Geographic location: U.S., Canada, TORONTO

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Recent comments

  • orwell
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    better than making 'certain' books 'disapear'..
    Of course once a book is out of print and online, all it takes is a few years and a few changes here and there, and all the words belong to the internet. Heck, they cann change all the words to fit their present agenda whenever they want. This idea was foresay in the late 40's when a certain man wrote a book called 'nineteen eighty four'
    Although you might now have heard of it.. its being taken out od circulation as we speak.

    hail harper!