Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Industry News -- Google settles

In an interestingly worded blog posting, Google announces the settlement reached between it, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) over the Google Book Search function on their search engine.

Relevant quotes:

"What makes this settlement so powerful is that in addition to being able to find and preview books more easily, users will also be able to read them. And when people read them, authors and publishers of in-copyright works will be compensated. If a reader in the U.S. finds an in-copyright book through Google Book Search, he or she will be able to pay to see the entire book online. Also, academic, library, corporate and government organizations will be able to purchase institutional subscriptions to make these books available to their members. For out-of-print books that in most cases do not have a commercial market, this opens a new revenue opportunity that didn't exist before."


"As part of the agreement, Google is also funding the establishment of a Book Rights Registry, managed by authors and publishers, that will work to locate and represent copyright holders. We think the Registry will help address the "orphan" works problem for books in the U.S., making it easier for people who want to use older books. Since the Book Rights Registry will also be responsible for distributing the money Google collects to authors and publishers, there will be a strong incentive for rightsholders to come forward and claim their works."

Other links of interest for this story:

Mercury News (Silicon Valley)

The Authors Guild

cnet news


Russell McOrmond said...

I hope this isn't off-topic for this site now that you aren't involved as a policy roll. You are still someone who thinks about these issues, and I hope you will continue to write.

As always, there are multiple ways to look at the recent agreement.

You could think that Google settled (your idea), or that the publishing industry settled. It all depends on what you saw as the problem, and then what came out as a solution.

I believe the problem was that even in this day-and-age of print on demand that the concept of "Out of Print" still existed. I consider it ludicrus that I would be prevented from getting a license on *any* work under copyright, under reasonable rates and terms, and in a digital format compatable with the technology I own.

That, and not infringement, is the top issue facing copyright today.

The publishing Industry wasn't offering that, so Google stepped in and pushed the envelope. Sure, what they did could be claimed to be infringing, but I don't have a problem with that as long as we eventually get to a good outcome. Infrngement of the established methods has been the only way to deal with the need to change the copyright system throughout the history of copyright.

What do we now have? An eCommerce site that allows you to search for and purchase more books than we could in the past.

Sounds like a win-win for Google, their customers/audience/etc and the print media industry. While I may see this as the publishing industry caving into Google's attempt to solve the real problem (copyright holders not offering their works for sale in a new medium), in the end it doesn't matter. The publishers can claim they won all they want, whether fact or fiction.

It does look like some people simply don't get it. You can look at the response from Viacom whose answer isn't to offer reasonable licenses/formats for their content, but to try to take it down from everywhere. I hope Google continues to push this issue until the real problem (which is not infringement) is solved for each type of human creativity that can be published digitally.

While I know some copyright holders see Google as the enemy, all evidence I see is that they are the best ally that creators have right now.

John McFetridge said...

"While I may see this as the publishing industry caving into Google's attempt to solve the real problem (copyright holders not offering their works for sale in a new medium), in the end it doesn't matter."

Well, you know, people don't usually like being forced to do things - even the right things. So, copyright holders thought it was up to them to set the terms of offering their own work for sale and some third party (Google) stepped in and did it for them - we hate it when the government tries to regulate the market, why are we okay with Google doing it?

I can't imagine many people supporting this idea of someone else knowing better what's good for people in any other circumstance, but if we do end up with a better system, great.

I'm still a little suspicious of the way it's ultimately going to play out and even cynical...

Russell McOrmond said...

If we allowed the market to decide, then that would be fine. But we don't. The government steps in with massive manipulations of the market in the form of copyright expansion as a "solution" to one perception of the problem. This is why it is important that we better describe the problem.

In the areas where I see the most copyright infringement (real or imagined) I also see the largest refusal to license under reasonable terms/etc. This is areas such as software and multimedia (music, movies, television). Making more activities require permission that will be refused is simply not a "solution" if this is what you see as the problem.

If you think it is a one-sided disrespect of copyright holders by average Canadians then the current direction will be seen as a reasonable solution. I fundamentally disagree with that belief, but that's politics.

John McFetridge said...

No, I don't see it as one-sided at all, but I do see an awful lot of ground being given to Google to "change" a system.

We're not really on opposite sides of this at all, Russell, we've been over it enough to know that.

But on the strictly theoretical basis, I don't like handing so much influence to change the way things are done over to a giant, shareholder-driven multinational like Google. Maybe this time we got lucky and it's actually going to work out great for everyone involved, but it's simply not the right way to do things and we shouldn't lose sight of that.

You know, we say things like, "reasonable terms," but I hardly ever see any definition of those.

I know when I worked in the movie business the cost of licensing a song for a soundtrack went way, way up. Well, many filmmakers are not very creative and wanted to use the decades long emotional connections people had made with those songs as shortcuts to storytelling. The song owners wanted more money for that. The filmmakers choice was to pay the money, or buy cheaper songs. I'm just glad that some other company didn't step in to make the songs somehow more available out of some kind of "public good" argument.
What's reasonable terms?

It may be very different in software, but in the arts there are many ways to make material available - but yes, some of it will be too expensive for some people. How big a problem is that?

John said...

aww, it's like the good old days around here all of a sudden.

As I mentioned, I'm changing tones around here, so no arguing from me. That is not because I feel restricted by my new job; rather I feel an increased freedom to get above the fray. I'm interested to see how my view expands as I consider the writing and publishing arts sector from a greater altitude -- sort of like that picture of Mount Nemo at the top of the blog (today), which I took from a WestJet flight to Winnipeg recently.

For clarity's sake, though, I'll say I used the word "settles" because this was a class action suit, and there is a financial component to the agreement.

As to pushing envelopes, forcing new models and market regulations, I think most people are more comfortable (relatively speaking) with those things when they come from elected governments rather than profit-motive companies. I'm just saying.

Carry on, good fellows. Who knows, if I get particularly agitated about something or other, I may show up anonymously. Maybe I'll make up a funny internet handle for myself.

Funderman! Rolling Funder!

... hmmm, maybe not.

Russell McOrmond said...

I don't like handing control of creative sectors over to any intermediaries. As you know, that was the issue that brought me into the debate in the first place, and the issue that caused me to oppose the current direction on Copyright.

Google isn't gaining influence. They are not being offered new exclusive rights, or handed a structure that will facilitate a platform or business model monopoly. Publishers will always be able to make their wares available via alternatives to Google, and the market will be able to decide if Google is not relevant.

The same isn't true of the DRM debate, "Making available", on-demand media, ISP liability, Network Neutrality, or some of the other issues we've spoken about at length and are at the core of current copyright revision.

As to "reasonable terms", I won't repeat anything and just point to Where is that "buy me now" button for Copyright?. There is so much creativity that falls within music, movies, television and even audio books that I would *LOVE* to pay for, but is simply not offered to me. My solution is to simply not access these works at all, but because of this refusal to offer to me I can understand those not involved in copyright deciding that infringement is their second choice. It is hard to realistically argue that someone accessing something that wasn't offered to them was a lost sale.

I'm not talking about negotiations between corporations or other intermediaries, who nearly always have alternatives in the marketplace. A movie producer who has a dispute with a composer always has the opportunity to go elsewhere. I'm talking about that interface between the entire copyright-related industry and the general public. That is a very different conversation that we need to recognize as different.

"I think most people are more comfortable (relatively speaking) with those things when they come from elected governments rather than profit-motive companies. I'm just saying."

Glad you're OK letting us chat here. I agree with the sentiment you express, but not the specifics in this instance. I don't trust Google, but their actions thus far have better matched what I feel would be good for creators than what our "elected governments" have come up with thus far. Yes, Google has a profit-motive, but so do the special interest lobbiest who our "elected officials" have thus far bothered to consult with.

I don't really care where a good policy outcome comes from -- I just want there to be some good news now and then, and I think this deal between publishers and Google is one of the few good news stories I've been reading.

Now, if we can only get similar collective deals in place for YouTube mashups/etc. I want to know that when I'm watching that cool amateur video with the cool background music that the composer and performer are getting a cut of the advertising revenue. Thus far it is the makers (Labels, etc) which primarily stand in the way of that deal. In order to retain control over composers/performers they are willing to toss cash out the window.