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Journalist, freelance and sci-fi authors groups take aim at Google book settlement

January 6, 2010 |  6:03 pm

Goog Three national authors groups comprising more than 4,000 writers and journalists today decried the controversial agreement between Google and author-publisher groups that would allow the tech giant to sell access to millions of books online.

In a letter to Congress, the three groups -- the National Writers Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- pointed to what they saw as the overly confusing and ultimately unfair rules that would govern what Google could do with the books if the settlement were to be approved in federal court.

In language by turns wry and outraged, the writer groups accuse Google of inadequately explaining the terms of the agreement to the many authors it could affect, and the Authors Guild and publishing industry of fashioning a deal that favors current authors, while leaving less lucrative out-of-print authors behind. 

The deal does not cover books currently in print.

"Think about it," the letter reads. "The existing competitive marketplace is best for the books that publishers care about. It's just the rest of us they want shoved into the straight jacket of the Book Rights Registry which they and the Authors Guild are proposing."

If the settlement were approved, it would include the creation of a "Book Rights Registry" to oversee licensing and revenue claims for all books covered by the agreement -- many of which are out of print but remain copyrighted. Under its current terms, authors are automatically included in the settlement, and must "opt out" if they prefer that their books not appear in Google's search results. 

By the nature of older books, many authors are dead or difficult to find.

Still, many authors have objected to being automatically included in the settlement process. 

"Are you ‘opting in’ or ‘opting out’ of the Google Books Settlement? If you don’t
know what that means – or don’t know what it means for you and your book – you’re in good
company," read the letter. "No attempt was made to locate the vast majority of authors, and the rest were sent emails. Of those, how many thought they were email spam and deleted them unread?"

Google declined to directly address the concerns expressed in the letter, noting instead that if it is approved, "the settlement will open access to millions of books while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work online."

The Authors Guild did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Find the full text of the letter embedded below.

Updated 8:35 p.m. with comment from Google.

-- David Sarno

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