Journalists and Authors Oppose Google Settlement

August 20, 2009
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Aug 20 – 27, 2009 Edition Journalists and Authors Oppose Google Settlement

NEW YORK, NY (AUTHORLINK NEWS, August 17, 2009)–The board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), nonfiction freelance writers, has voted to oppose the class action settlement in Authors Guild v Google. Approval of the settlement plan currently is pending before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The freelance writers' group is not asking the court to scrap the entire settlement document. Rather, it will ask the court to direct changes in specific sections.

"We commend our friends in the Authors Guild for suing Google, and for the thoughtful way much of this settlement is crafted," says ASJA president Salley Shannon. "That said, representation in both the writer and publisher classes needs broadening."

The ASJA, which has always fought for First Amendment rights, is particularly concerned that the settlement does not contain language forbidding Google to censor which books and authors will be in the Book Search database, and that some provisions effectively revise copyright law.

"If we have all learned one thing in the past year, isn't it that it is foolhardy to trust any corporation to regulate itself?" Shannon said.

ASJA BELIEVES PRESENT REPRESENTATION FOR BOTH WRITERS AND PUBLISHERS ON THE BOOKS RIGHTS REGISTRY IS LUDICROUSLY NARROW. The proposed settlement has the registry overseeing payout and myriad other matters related to the Book Search database and Google's sale of digital books. It will be a significant player in shaping the publishing industry's digital future; the proposed registry even has a role in setting book prices. When new ideas for digital products pop up in future, the registry would be the sole representative of writers and publishers.

As written, this powerful new entity would always be governed by four publishing representatives, each named by a major publisher, and four writers, all named by the Authors Guild. This seems limited and far too cozy.

More writers need a voice. So do more publishers, especially small publishers and print-on-demand publishers. ASJA suggests increasing the number of representatives overall, or else rotating members on and off the registry, using a wider list of writer organizations and publishers to make appointments.

Some 32 million books are protected by copyright in the United States. They were not all written by members of the Authors Guild or published by McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, the Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, or John Wiley & Sons. These groups won't be writing or publishing all future books, either. This is a class action suit, and the classes need better representation.

AMEND THE SETTLEMENT TO INCLUDE RULES THAT SAFEGUARD READER PRIVACY AND PREVENT CENSORSHIP, ASJA SAYS. "Security" in the settlement document now means protecting Google. There are 17 pages of security provisions, all designed to keep someone from sneaking into Book Search files without paying.

Before they are writers, ASJA members are book-lovers and citizens. The ASJA board believes there simply must be language in the settlement document preventing censorship and limiting how Google can use the data it will collect on who is browsing, reading and buying books. Without it, the possibilities for privacy invasion and for the censorship of a book, an author, or even a whole category of books are chilling — especially when the corporation will have little or no competition. We all know the strength of Google's algorithms for interpreting online activity. The ads that pop up when we search show it to us daily.

ASJA SAYS, STOP THE GOOGLIZATION OF COPYRIGHT LAW. Do we really want Google and a committee making law? Essentially, that is what "opt out" requirements in the proposed settlement do. The ASJA believes that if copyright law needs to be nimbler in this digital age, it still should be Congress calling the plays. We will ask the court to direct the removal of deadlines for opting out of the Book Search. Copyright holders should control their works.

ASJA will ask the court for these and possibly other changes in the settlement's provisions. The board hopes to work with like-minded organizations also seeking specific changes in the settlement's provisions.

For further information on ASJA, go to www.asja.org/

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Founded in 1948, the American Society of Journalists and Authors is the nation's leading organization of independent nonfiction writers. Our membership consists of 1,400 outstanding freelance writers of magazine articles, trade books, and many other forms of nonfiction writing, each of whom has met ASJA's exacting standards of professional achievement.

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