Wednesday, April 16, 2014

friends of the court

Authors Around the World Tell Google to Step Back

I'm sure it's felt at times like a lonely fight for the US Authors Guild as they persevere in their lawsuit against Google, Inc. The AG launched its action against the global search leader back in 2005, citing the works of a small number of American authors (including the great Jim Bouton, baseballer turned author) "and on behalf of all others similarly situated."

After all, in an increasingly borderless world, Google's wholesale appropriation - sorry, alleged wholesale appropriation - of millions of books in copyright would surely, eventually, affect the rights of all authors, no matter their nationality. But this fight is being fought on American turf, so the valiant little Authors Guild is stepping into the ring for all of us, and against an opponent the size of a small planet. Last week, the AG filed an appeal brief to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Court in New York - an appeal being necessary because, somehow, the Second Circuit previously found that the unpermitted, uncompensated copying of millions of complete, in-copyright works by a huge for-profit corporation with an eye on increasing their overall profitability was somehow a "fair use." That ruling came down last fall, and the head-shaking among professional creators hasn't stopped since.*

And so, the rest of the world has stepped up to support the AG's appeal. This week, no fewer than 8 amicus briefs were filed with the court declaring the original ruling unacceptable.Two of those briefs included participation from The Writers' Union of Canada. Longtime TWUC members Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Hill and Yann Martel joined a brief prepared on behalf of 17 of the world's most beloved authors. As a founding member of the International Authors Forum, TWUC itself is represented in the IAF's amicus brief before the court.

Some highlights:

"In exchange for access to books for copying — which the universities were not authorized to give — Google distributed to the universities digital copies of all the books copied from their collections — which Google was not authorized to do. The result of this transaction was the copying of over 20 million books without the permission of any copyright owner..." (Gladwell, et al) 
"This Court should not fall victim to Google’s attempt to avoid the limits of the law by presenting the broader “Books Program” as a fait accompli that is too big to fail. No example of fair use allows the degree of copying undertaken by Google." (Gladwell, et al) 
"...the issue comes down to this: an author asked about why he wrote what he did may give many answers. He may say that it was a labor of love. He may say that it was to make a living. He may say many things. But what he will not say is that he wrote his book so it could be subsumed into a corporate meta-database optimized for searching." (IAF) 
"The mere fact that Google’s infringement scheme is clever should not make it permissible under the law." (IAF)

Thanks to all around the world who continue to fight the good fight on this one, and special thanks to our friends in New York. 

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*In case anyone's wondering, there is historical precedent for head-shakingly bizarre rulings coming from New York courts. In 1883, New York State passed a law aimed at stopping cigar-making corporations from  using labor situated in grossly unsanitary tenement housing. The companies brought suit against the State and eventually won when the court declared "the legislation did not constitute a legitimate use of the state's police power to regulate behavior detrimental to the public welfare for tobacco was in no way 'injurious to the public health.' On the contrary, it was 'a disinfectant and a prophylactic.'" (quoted from The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin)

1 comment:

Sandy Crawley said...

Brilliant John. This push-back to Google is vitally important and it gives those of us who see the devaluation of knowledge as a critical component in social regress some hope for....well....progress instead!