It’s widely reported today that Google has won the case against the Authors’ Guild in the States. Judge Chin says it’s OK for Google to freely digitise all books, for the purposes of showing snippets. People can now search to see if a book is relevant to their research or interest.
To me, this still raises an issue as to whether anyone should scan a book without the consent of the author. It feels similar to the issue with Google’s street views, which inadvertently showed people in the street at the time, also without their consent. It feels like an infringement of rights. It feels like part of our growing lack of privacy and control.
That being said, any student could go into a library and flick through books, to see if they were going to be useful. Besides academic uses, there’s an already-established practice of being able to skim some of a book on Amazon before deciding to buy it. Looks like this ship has sailed. What used to be restricted because it’s labour-intensive (you’d have to go to a library or shop in person, pick up the book and glance through it), is now easy – and global.
I feel rather fazed by the enormity of it. But, optimist that I am, I’m going to put my faith in Judge Chin’s diligence and wisdom, and hope that it does indeed mean that more people buy more books.
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but most interesting (besides being told that 500 years worth of YouTube is viewed every day via Facebook) is the meeting about unfair contracts.
We have legislation against unfair contracts (http://www.oft.gov.uk/about-the-oft/legal-powers/legal/unfair-terms/guidance#.Un0QquK3A9g) but this doesn’t apply to intellectual property. We’re hoping to address this by other means. France protects writers; shame on us that we don’t here in the UK.
I’ve got quite a shopping list. A writer can create a TV series or movie, and then get fired, only to have another writer rewrite it and get the credit (and the residual payments). A writer’s credit can be accidentally left off a film, and the producer only has to use reasonable efforts to get this corrected (as long as it doesn’t cost them any money to do so). Most film and TV contracts assume the writer will do two drafts and a polish (and be paid accordingly) when more often they’re required to do many more drafts than this (sometimes because the producers have changed their minds). Many writers have to pitch, or write shadow scripts, on spec, before being commissioned to write for a TV series; it’s not down to their experience, and the producer’s judgement that their voice is right for the programme. Book authors are bullied into using pseudonyms that put them near a similar bestseller on a bookshop shelf. And writers’ incomes and rights have been deeply eroded over the last ten years.
The meeting took place at the Houses of Parliament on Guy Fawkes Night; luckily the fireworks happened outside rather than inside. Wish us all luck, and don’t forget to support the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild.