Monthly Archives: September 2009

Google Settlement Fairness Hearing Adjourned

September 24, 2009.  We just received word that Judge Denny Chin granted the motion of authors and publishers to adjourn the fairness hearing scheduled for October 7th.  While noting that the current settlement raises “significant issues,” Judge Chin says that “the proposed settlement would offer many benefits to society, as recognized by supporters of the settlement as well as DOJ. … It would appear that if a fair and reasonable settlement can be struck, the public would benefit.”

Judge Chin ordered the parties to the settlement to appear on October 7th for a status conference “to determine how to proceed with the case as expeditiously as possible.”

We’ll continue to work on amending the settlement to address the Justice Department’s concerns.

Books in Limbo


This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post August 19, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Much has been written of late about the Google Book Settlement, mostly about issues of copyright, monopoly and privacy. The tone has become increasingly nasty and the turn to scare tactics familiar to anyone following the health care debate. Lost in these broadsides and in the papers filed in the U. S. District Court that will soon rule on the case is the view from the trenches: What effect will the proposed settlement (or its derailment) have on students and scholarship?

Ask anyone how undergraduates go about researching papers these days and you’ll hear the same thing: They surf the Internet. The good ones quickly move beyond Wikipedia and consult the thousands of scholarly books and articles now easily accessible with a click. Going to the library or bookstore and lugging home a treasure-trove of books — one of the great pleasures of my life — holds less appeal for those I teach. They don’t have the time. It’s not how they are used to finding out about things. And with library acquisition budgets slashed, the books they seek are all too often only available through time-consuming interlibrary loans.

Happily, a lot of scholarly books are already accessible online, though nearly all of them were published either before 1924 (and are therefore in the public domain) or after 2000 or so, when academic publishers began making some books accessible in digital form. For a student researching a paper, most books published in the interim remain invisible and might as well not exist. Put another way, it’s easier for students to call up electronic copies of even the most obscure works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries than it is for them to get hold of important scholarly books on Elizabethan literature published only a decade ago. The intellectual labor of several generations of scholars across the disciplines is in danger of being, by default, condemned to limbo.

I’m the author of one of those books in limbo, Rival Playwrights, published in 1991 in hardcover by Columbia University Press and priced at $35. It has sold around a thousand copies and never appeared in paperback or electronic form. Technically, it is still in print but you wouldn’t be able to order a new copy on, find it at a B&N superstore, or download it onto your Kindle (though if you are desperate, I’m told that a used copy can be picked up for $248, plus shipping, from Canada). You can also check it out of the library — if, that is, you have borrowing privileges at a leading college or university.

That situation is about to change. It’s estimated that Google is spending upwards of a half-billion dollars in an effort to scan all the books — as many as 20 million — located in top research libraries. Google ran into trouble, though, when, without permission, it scanned books like mine that were still under copyright. The Authors Guild stepped in and sued. After extended negotiations a settlement was reached, one that protects the rights of publishers and authors through a Book Rights Registry while rewarding Google’s investment (the settlement also allows copyright holders to exclude their books or make only parts of them available). I don’t ever expect to make much in royalties from my book, but I feel good about the prospect of seeing it in wider circulation. And I’m cheered that my publishers stand to profit from the settlement and have already made snippets of my book and many others like it available through Google Book Search. Friends and colleagues with whom I have spoken — and I suspect many thousands of academic authors with books in limbo — feel the same way. When you spend a decade or longer writing a book that contributes to the conversation in your field you want the next generation to read it.

One of the arguments made against the Google Book Settlement is that it rides roughshod over the legal rights of “orphaned” books — the technical term for titles still in copyright whose owners cannot be found. It’s a threat that is considerably overstated (those in the business of hunting down copyright holders of orphaned books estimate that about 80-85% can be located). Orphaned books need to be acknowledged, but so too do books in limbo, whose intellectual importance has been all but ignored in debates about the settlement. And of course every orphaned book is currently in limbo.

If the settlement is approved it’s not only those affiliated with colleges and universities who will gain access to all these books. The settlement requires Google to make available at a terminal in each of 16,500 public libraries copies of every single scanned out-of-print book (except for those that authors or publishers choose to not display). Anyone can read them there for free. Access to knowledge will no longer be a function of privilege, as millions of citizens can consult a general collection that surpasses those found in the best Ivy League universities. Those who want to purchase copies will also be able to do so — with writers and their publishers receiving the lion’s share of these payments. All this should also enable university libraries to redirect resources toward acquiring and maintaining unique archives such as manuscript collections as well as cultural artifacts that can’t be scanned.

Would I prefer that research universities had dipped into their deep endowments and done this collectively before Google acted? Sure, but that was always a fantasy and those endowments have now dried up. Will the settlement bring back the scholarly book? I don’t know, but I’m betting that it will at least stem the rising tide of wiki-based research. Will we live to see the day when students store favorite books on their laptops much as they collect music on their iPods? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, it’s worth reflecting on the consequences if those trying to block this settlement have their way. Who knows how many more years all that scholarship will be condemned to limbo.

James Shapiro is Professor of English at Columbia University and a member of the Authors Guild Council. His next book — Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? — will be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2010.

Justice Department “Does Not Want Opportunity Lost,” Urges Revisions

Text of e-mail sent to members, September 21, 2009.  

Beating their midnight deadline by about 90 minutes, the Justice Department on Friday filed a brief calling for modifications to the Authors Guild’s class-action settlement with Google over Google’s scanning of millions of library books without permission. The Justice Department said the parties to the settlement should modify the settlement to address certain copyright, antitrust, and class-action concerns. While it opposes the settlement agreement as it now stands, the Justice Department “strongly supports” the settlement’s goals of creating new markets for out-of-print works and committed itself to working constructively with the parties on a revised settlement.

The Justice Department urged everyone to seize the moment, saying, “this case offers the potential for important societal benefits, the United States does not want the opportunity or momentum to be lost.”

The brief of the Justice Department is available here.

Also available at our website is the Guild’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on September 10th. We argued that the settlement would help cure a market failure — the inability of readers, students, and scholars to access out-of-print books — by creating valuable new markets for those works. Authors Guild Testimony.

Finally, we ask you to take a moment to read Books In Limbo, Columbia University professor James Shapiro’s article on the educational and scholarly benefits of the settlement. Books In Limbo was first published in The Huffington Post.  James Shapiro is a member of the Guild’s Council.

Authors Guild Testimony Before House Judiciary Committee

On September 10, Paul Aiken appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of the Authors Guild and submitted the following written testimony:

My name is Paul Aiken.  I’m the executive director of the Authors Guild, the largest society of published authors in the U.S., representing more than 8,500 book authors and freelance writers.  Our members represent the broad sweep of American authorship, including literary and genre fiction, nonfiction, trade, academic, and children’s book authors, textbook authors, freelance journalists and poets.[1]  Guild members have won countless honors and all major literary awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature.[2]

 The Authors Guild promotes the professional interests of authors:  we’re advocates for effective copyright protection, fair contracts, and free expression.

The Challenges Facing Print Media

 It’s a pleasure to be here before this committee, at this moment in book publishing history.  Never in the Authors Guild’s long history has its straightforward mission – to maintain writing as a viable livelihood – been so daunting.  The digital environment is brutal for print media.  As we meet here today, the newspaper industry is dying.  Credible estimates say that one newspaper is closing each week in America.  The magazine industry isn’t much better off, as week by week we see venerable publications shrink in size and ambition.  The loss to our society from the collapse of these industries is immeasurable.

The book industry, happily, has to date fared better than our colleagues in the print media.  This is, no doubt, partly due to our medium:  print books are still superior in almost every way to their electronic counterparts.  That advantage is rapidly fading, however; our transition to digital form is underway, and things change quickly in a digital environment.

The portents are not encouraging.  Finding a sustainable business model for creative work in digital form seems nearly impossible on the Internet:  if piracy doesn’t get you, the aggregators will.

We’ll likely need many things to go right to avoid the fate of our colleagues in the print industries.

The Opportunity

Yet, there are reasons for optimism.  One of those reasons is our settlement with Google, which brings us here today.  That settlement promises to address one of the oldest and most vexing of market failures:  the loss to the commercial market of out-of-print books.

If you had asked knowledgeable people a couple of years ago whether we were close to delivering a near universal library to public libraries, colleges, and universities across the country, they would have scoffed.  The technical challenges seemed too daunting, the rights clearance issues insurmountable, the passions stirred by the ongoing copyright wars far too intense for such a result to be achieved in the foreseeable future.

But here we are, on the cusp of that extraordinary achievement:  the marriage of much of our collective library with the Internet.  The benefits to readers, students, and scholars would be profound.  Here are a few:

1. The settlement would turn every library into a world-class research facility, by offering every public library building in the U.S. – all 16,500 of them – a free portal to millions of out-of-print books.  The settlement would also offer a free portal to that same vast database of out-of-print books to more than 4,000 higher education institutions, from community colleges to our most elite universities.

2. Students and professors at colleges with the most modest of endowments would find an important part of the academic playing field had come to level, as they gain full access from every computer on campus to a library exceeding that of the finest Ivy League schools.

3. The visually and reading impaired would find the stacks of libraries open up to them as never before, gaining access to orders of magnitude more books than they currently have.

4. The settlement would offer anyone online in the U.S. free "preview" access to hundreds of millions of pages of text (up to 20% of each book).[3]  Readers from their own home computers would be able to review hundreds of accounts of the Battle of Vicksburg, or of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, or of the sources and interpretation of Moby Dick, at no charge.  Should a reader find one book particularly compelling, she could buy access to the entire book.  Access to public domain books is free, of course, and authors controlling the rights to their books can choose to give away access for free.

Authors and publishers are willing to make this deal for several reasons.  We of course hope to profit from the market that’s created.  We would like to have the Internet work for us, creating a market of the previously unmarketable.  We also have a vital interest in keeping books central to our students, scholars, and culture.  We’re confident that making this vast library available online will help do just that.

Authors have another strong interest in making this deal work:  authors need libraries.  Libraries fuel their work.  Authors of every type read, reinterpret and rely on their fellow authors, and those who have come before them.  This is true of the scholarly writer and of the author of popular nonfiction.  It’s as true for authors of books for children as it is for authors of books for adults.  Authors of literary fiction also rely heavily on those who’ve come before them.  The creative expressions are new, but many of the ideas underlying literary works are eternal.  Writers of genre fiction are no exception.  Romance writers read romance novels and other works and offer their own interpretation and variations on the romance theme.

Authors, in short, want not only to realize the untapped value of their out-of-print works, they want access to this new, vast online library so that they can more easily create new works that readers will value.

The Opposition

Opposition to the settlement falls into several broad categories.  We’ll address two important objections in this Executive Summary.

Objection #1:  Copyright doesn’t permit a system that asks authors and publishers to specifically exclude their out-of-print works from uses negotiated on their behalf.

This simply isn’t so.  There is ample precedent around the world for dealing with market failures in copyright in precisely this way.  For example, Germany today operates a system that nearly parallels the one the settlement would put in place.  The German system allows for

(a) routine copying of out-of-print works written by foreign and domestic authors,

(b) including routine copying of “orphan” (unclaimed) works, and

(c) without regard to whether those authors and publishers have expressly approved those uses.

The German system, however, actually denies authors and publishers any ability to exclude their works.

The German system goes even further, allowing the copying of in-print works without the permission of the author or publisher (in our settlement, the author and publisher must both approve of any displays of in-print works).  Germany’s photocopy licensing system is perfectly legal, and meets with the norms of international copyright law.

In fact, this is the typical way for countries to deal with the market failure represented by the unlicensed photocopying of copyrighted materials, although many countries allow authors and publishers to exclude their works from such licensing.  Other countries with similar photocopy licensing systems include Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries, among many others.  The market for photocopy licensing often fails without intervention, because the transaction costs of the license, including the labor costs of the licensee, are simply too high relative to the value of the individual copy.

The inability to license out of print works to colleges, libraries and individual users presents a market failure on an epic scale.  Here, as with photocopy licensing, a major component of the transaction costs involve rights clearance issues.  Another impediment is the sheer scope of the project, and the capital and technological resources it demands.  This settlement, with a financially strong and sophisticated technology partner, addresses the market failure.  The societal value in bringing these works back to the market is incalculable, but until our settlement there was no practical way to do so.[4] 

Objection #2.  The settlement inappropriately permits the use of unclaimed (orphan) works.

No issue has been more misunderstood or misreported regarding this settlement than the unclaimed or “orphan” works issue.

The primary misconception is the size of the problem:  it’s much smaller than has commonly been reported, for several reasons.  First, finding the rights owner of a book is not as daunting as many seem to believe.  Books do not present the classic orphan works problem, photographs do.  Photographs, both in the physical world and online, often become separated from their identifying information.  This makes finding the rights owner a near impossibility.  Books, however, always contain author and publisher information, and there’s often a copyright registration record to help locate the rights owner.  Second, although a copyright-protected book may have been published as long ago as 1923, the vast majority copyright-protected books in our libraries are far more recent.[5]

Another major misconception is the failure to recognize that countries around the globe are already dealing with the orphan works issue in a productive way.  The photocopy-licensing systems in other English-speaking countries permit the use of orphan works.  This, as previously discussed, is a natural result of those nations’ attempts to cope with the market failure represented by unlicensed photocopying of copyrighted works.  As the licensing societies collect photocopy royalties and start to cut checks to authors, word spreads, quickly, and authors step forward to register themselves.  The pool of unlicensed works shrinks.  The licensing societies are duty-bound to actively seek out authors[6] for whom they have money.  Year by year, they locate more and more authors, and the orphan works problem diminishes further.

We have some experience with this, since we helped found and long provided financial support to the Authors Registry, an independent, non-profit, rights-payment agency.  The Authors Registry collects photocopy and other use fees from overseas, particularly from photocopy uses in the U.K., and pays authors in the U.S. the amounts due them.  A sample of our success in paying authors of out-of-print works last year suggests that we reach 85% of such authors.  The success rate of larger, more developed systems – such as that of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in the U.K. – demonstrates that even higher success rates are possible.  (The ALCS, representing more than 30,000 published writers, is an enthusiastic supporter of the settlement, for good reason.  They know it can work, because they’ve achieved great success finding and paying photocopy revenues to authors of out of print books.)          

Thus, this settlement presents a practical solution for the problem of orphan works for books.  When an author is identified, then requests for all kinds of other uses – for permission to use an excerpt from the author’s work, reprint it, or to translate it into a foreign language – can be relayed to the author or the author’s agent and acted upon.

The orphan works issue is far smaller, and far more tractable, than some objectors would have you believe. The settlement itself is a big part of the solution.


We urge this committee to recognize this settlement for what it is: the outstanding result of a rare and productive truce in the copyright wars, negotiated by strong-willed and pragmatic representatives of the author, publisher, and library communities and a sophisticated technology partner. To a dispassionate observer, we believe the solution presented by this settlement is how a rational, useful market for out-of-print books should operate in the digital age. The means of getting there, a class-action settlement, may be novel, but that shouldn’t distract us from the great good – for readers, students, scholars, authors and publishers – that this settlement accomplishes. Similar systems, inevitably, will develop around the world. This settlement doesn’t pre-empt congressional action, but there’s no need to act now, before we see how well this solution works in the real world. We suspect many of the concerns – including all of the major objections – will prove unwarranted as this settlement goes into operation. There’s no need to fix that which likely isn’t broken at all. Allowing this opportunity to slip through our grasp would be a tragic loss to all those who value the riches stored in our nation’s libraries.

[1] The Guild had its beginnings as the Authors League of America, which was founded in 1912 by a group of book authors (including Theodore Roosevelt, who served as the League’s founding vice president), short story writers, freelance journalists and a smattering of dramatists.  In the 1920s, the Authors League broke into two groups: the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild of America.

[2] Pearl S. Buck (1938) (who served as Authors Guild president), William Faulkner (1949), John Steinbeck (1962), and Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978).  One Guild member, Elie Wiesel (1986), has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

[3] Here’s the math: we expect the settlement to make at least 10 million out-of-print books available, which, at an average of 300 pages per book, represents at least 3 billion pages of professionally written, professionally edited text.  20% of that is 600 million pages of text available at every desktop computer in the U.S. as a free preview. (For comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica is about 44,000 pages in print form; Wikipedia’s featured articles total about 5,000 pages. All English Wikipedia articles, including stubs, total perhaps 3 million pages.)

[4] The impediments to making systematic use of the digital rights in out-of-print books are many, but they fall into two broad categories:

A. Rights clearance issues.  Here, there are three different obstacles. First, it may be unclear who controls the rights because no one knows whether rights to a particular out-of-print book have reverted to the author or not (most standard trade book contracts ask an author to demand a reversion of rights before the contract formally terminates and the rights revert to the author).  Second, it may be unclear who controls the digital rights for a particular out-of-print book, since many (but not all) older contracts make no mention of digital or analogous rights.  Third, it may be difficult to find the author or publisher who controls the rights, particularly for older works.  This is the so-called orphan works problem.  (More on this later.)

B. Digitization and presentation issues.  Here, the obstacles are capital and technological sophistication.  

The rights clearance issues are largely addressed in Attachment A to the settlement, which deals with author-publisher issues and was the result of laborious negotiations between author and publisher representatives, and through the operation of class-action law. 

The digitization and presentation issues have been handled with money and clever technology.  Estimates of Google’s costs in scanning, digitizing and building the technical infrastructure to support the display of millions of out-of-print books run to about a billion dollars.  (We have no special knowledge of Google’s costs.)  Part of the challenge for Google was to find an efficient way to scan library books without damaging them by flattening them onto the scanner’s surface.  It solved this through a patented technology that corrects for the distortions caused by the scanning of a book page that curves away from the scanner’s surface towards the book’s binding.

[5] This is because, for books published between 1923 and 1963, authors had to file renewal registrations to prevent their works from falling into the public domain. More importantly, the number of titles produced by the book publishing industry was far lower through most of the 20th Century than it was in its concluding decades.  The median age of a copyright-protected book in a U.S. library is far younger than many commentators assume.

[6] Publishers are sought out too, of course.  In some systems, such as in the U.K., different societies represent authors and publishers.  In others, such as in Australia and Canada, the same society represents both authors and publishers.

Authors Line Up to Support Google Book Settlement

September 9, 2009. Authors who support the Google Book Settlement as a way to provide greater access to their books and make additional money from those works need to do nothing to be a party to it and enjoy its benefits. Still, many have decided to make their support known. Here’s a list of Authors Guild members who have taken a public position in support of the settlement.

Roy Blount, Jr.
Amy Tan
Simon Winchester
Wally Lamb
Dave Barry
Garrison Keillor
Gail Carson Levine
James Shapiro
Arthur Golden
Ann Banks
George Cooper
Mary Pope Osborne
Barbara Nevins Taylor
Beverly Cleary
Seymour Simon
Scott Turow
Victor Navasky
Peter Straub
James Gleick
Susan Cheever
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Rebecca Wells
Kathleen Sharp
Katherine Neville
Jennifer Egan
Peg Tyre
Jean Strouse
Mike Lupica
Judy Blume
Sarah Vowell
Douglas Preston
Elmore Leonard
Warren Adler
Peter Gethers
Nick Taylor
Peter Petre
Rachel Vail
Pat Cummings
Michele Mitchell
Roxana Robinson
James Duffy
Shay Youngblood
Stephen Manes
Jonathan Weiner
Stuart Woods

The Google Book Settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again. The agreement opens new markets, and that’s a good thing for readers and authors.  It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that’s a great thing for readers, students and scholars. These authors, like many others, appreciate the benefits of the Google Book Settlement and strongly believe that it should be approved.

For more information, please visit the Authors Guild’s settlement resources page.

Amazon Accuses Someone Else of Monopolizing Bookselling

September 2, 2009. Amazon made it official today, filing a brief in the Google case claiming that someone else might gain a monopoly in bookselling.  It seems we’re compelled to state the obvious:

Amazon’s hypocrisy is breathtaking.  It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry.  At this moment it’s trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss.  It won’t do that forever, of course.  Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors.  The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.

Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans.  Amazon needn’t worry, really:  this agreement is about out-of-print books.  Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure.

The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again, and Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement.  The agreement opens new markets, and that’s a good thing for readers and authors.  It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that’s a great thing for readers, students and scholars.  The public has an overwhelming interest in having this settlement approved.