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Authors' Guild Goes After University Book Digitization Projects 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-they're-consistent dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Ars Technica: "With the planned settlement between Google and book publishers still on indefinite hold, a legal battle by proxy has started. Google partnered with many libraries at US universities in order to gain access to the works it wants to digitize. Now, several groups that represent book authors have filed suit against those universities, attempting to block both digital lending and an orphaned works project. The suit is being brought by the Authors' Guild, its equivalents in Australia, Quebec, and the UK, and a large group of individual authors. Its target: some major US universities, including Michigan, the University of California system, and Cornell. These libraries partnered with Google to get their book digitization efforts off the ground and, in return, Google has provided them with digital copies of the works. These and many other universities have also become involved with the HathiTrust, an organization set up to help them archive and distribute digital works; the HathiTrust is also named as a defendant."
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Authors' Guild Goes After University Book Digitization Projects

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  • Scram (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:08PM (#37382176) Journal

    The courts should rule first of all that the guilds have no standing with respect to works of authors they do not represent... which, despite their name, is a lot of them.

    • While I am neither attorney nor judge, it seems to me that since the dispute arose out of the digitization project undertaken by Google and given that the circumstances and arguments are likely to be identical or at least similar for any individual work; the Authors Guild could probably make a case that they represent a class of plaintiffs and stand a decent chance of being certified as plaintiffs representing that class. Of course, it might be difficult from a practical standpoint to track down enough indi
      • Of course, it might be difficult from a practical standpoint to track down enough individual members who agree to be certified into the class

        Does the Authors Guild have a newsletter? At $30,000 per work in statutory damages under United States copyright law, I guess it wouldn't take a lot of defendants to threaten to bankrupt the universities.

        • Judges sometimes impose conditions in order to certify the class. For example, it might be required that a certain percentage of likely future of plaintiffs sign on before the class can be certified. It would probably be something like gathering signatures for a ballot initiative; costly, tedious and labor intensive. Another fly in the ointment is that many universities have a clause in their bylaws stating that they can never settle a lawsuit; it must be litigated until won or ultimately lost in court on
          • Then perhaps I wasn't clear: Even if they don't have enough signatures for a class action, they might still have enough signatures from individual affected authors to make a sizable dent in the universities' foundations if only those authors sue.
      • Of course, it might be difficult from a practical standpoint to track down enough individual members who agree to be certified into the class, especially given the large numbers of works involved, but it may be possible depending upon what requirements are imposed by the judge to certify the class.

        The moment that they're tracked down they are no longer authors of orphan works, i.e. Catch-22.

  • when I read the story about the guy who ripped off the JSTOR archives by sitting in an MIT wiring closet, and got sued for it, i screamed "How is this different from what google does with google books? they didnt get copyright permission from all their authors..."

    guess.. uhm.. oops. guess it wasnt THAT different.

    • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:30PM (#37382270)

      The JSTOR guy wasn't charged with any copyright violations. JSTOR themselves seem to have distanced themselves from the criminal prosecution too by releasing a statement that they will not pursue civil charges and, by implication, they aren't behind the criminal charges. And then last week JSTOR made all of their public domain articles freely accessible to non-subscribers.

      On the other hand, Google does need a slap-down here. The people they are "negotiating" with don't have any standing wrt to abandoned works - if they did, the works would not qualify as abandoned. If Google really wants this, they need to lobby for changes in the law. The MAFIAA has no problem buying senators, Google's got more than enough money to buy practically the entire senate. If they don't have a problem with "defensive" software patents, they shouldn't have a problem with defensive lobbying either....

      • On the other hand, Google does need a slap-down here. The people they are "negotiating" with don't have any standing wrt to abandoned works - if they did, the works would not qualify as abandoned.

        Almost sounds like Righthaven, doesn't it? But why would Google need to get slapped down? I would think that the AG is the one getting out of line here in trying to represent people legally that it has no right to.

        IANAL, so....lawyers, is it legal to represent someone without their expressed consent?
        • IANAL, so....lawyers, is it legal to represent someone without their expressed consent?

          That's the job of the attorney general - representing "the people" as a whole. Although, AFAIK no AG has anything to do with the Google Books case.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The MAFIAA has no problem buying senators, Google's got more than enough money to buy practically the entire senate.

        Wouldn't that be evil?

  • Heaven forbid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacAndrew (463832) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:14PM (#37382210) Homepage

    ... that people get to read these works!

    As a writer I understand the tension between wanting to be read and wanting to be paid. Some want only the former, some the latter; I want both, kind of like eat to live and live to eat combined. Such is my right. But I find the resistence to digitization foolish, a fixation on money and a holdover from dead tree books plus a first use doctrine many publishers and authors never liked. It's obstructionist.

    As a reader, full speed ahead. I am so tired of books missing at the library or out of print. Then there's the allure of getting a book within thirty seconds. Yes, I'll pay for the privilege, can we please hurry up with an eye to both principles (get read, get paid)? And books in the public domain? Rapture. (Topic for another day: The insane extension of copyright in the Mickey Mouse / Sonny Bono Act.....)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Such is my right.

      Is it, though? Between this and the story about the EU copyright extension, it seems that both authors groups and content owners (and no, they aren't the same) are all supporting infinite copyright extensions with no provision for orphaned works. If your "right" to make money conflicts with society's interest in preserving this content for future generations, which wins out?

      • Authors don't want you reading orphaned works; they want you buying copies of new works.
    • by dasunt (249686)

      I was using Google books awhile back for some genealogical research. One of the books I was using was the Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London, Connecticut [google.com], published in 1901, which was originally written in 1711-1758.

      It's dull diary entries, mostly describing the weather, what task the author had accomplished that day, any income, and who died.

      Oddly, the book was republished in 2008, in paperback format. I can buy it on Amazon for $39. But I would have never found it. I'm not related to the auth

    • by hitmark (640295)

      The best option i can see is to tack a levy on the net connection, and feed that into a creative support pool. Sure, it is not as fine grained as having a sum lifted on every download or every read/listen/view (what the laywers like to define as consumption, even tho nothing is really consumed). But in the end i think the only people that will loose out are the fat cat execs and their lawyers.

      Thing is tho that for there to be a slice of the pool i think there is a need for a work to be registered rather the

  • by rafial (4671) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:33PM (#37382290) Homepage

    To me, this story shows the importance of keeping Project Gutenberg moving forward, slowly but steadily.

    • So what does Project Gutenberg do once it finishes digitizing all notable pre-1923 books in the English language?
      • by julesh (229690)

        Start digitizing books published prior to 1963 whose copyright wasn't renewed? Or start work on the books from 1923, which they will legally be able to publish in 7 years' time (I imagine it will take them at least the next 7 years to finish off everything worth keeping from prior to 1923).

        • Start digitizing books published prior to 1963 whose copyright wasn't renewed?

          For one thing, that set is also finite. For another, PGLAF would likely have to implement geolocation-based access control on these works and block them from view in non-rule of the shorter term countries in order to shield its assets in those countries.

          Or start work on the books from 1923, which they will legally be able to publish in 7 years' time

          For one thing, copyright owners might still be able to claim infringement even for intermediate copies. For another, you appear to forget the rumored Copyright Term Extension Act of 2018, for which The Walt Disney Company and the Estate of George Gershwin wi

  • Simple solution (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gravis Zero (934156) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:52PM (#37382380)

    a) do not digitize any of the books of authors in the Authors Guild that do not request their books be digitized.
    b) pull the books of authors in the Authors Guild from the school library and all curriculum that do not give express permission to digitize their books.

    be careful what you ask for because you might just get it and more.

  • lol @ "the media" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:53PM (#37382386)
    Lets get one thing strait here. For a long time The media industry sought to focus the publics interest. It's hard to market to huge audiences with a wide variety of tastes. With free and easy distribution on the internet, the media industries aren't just afraid that people are pirating their content... their true fear is the availability of content not approved by them. They aren't trying to stop piracy, they are trying to stop the alternative distribution systems that are forming outside of their control. They are trying to destroy the systems that could bring new, different and FREE content to their customers not because their afraid of theft, but because they cannot compete with something that's free and tailored to the consumers needs. They want you to have choices limited to what they've chosen for you, in the format they've decided on, at the price they've agreed on with their "competitors."
  • by pacergh (882705) on Monday September 12, 2011 @07:58PM (#37382410)

    You can't sue a State or the federal government unless they specifically allow it. Some States might allow their state universities to be sued, but most do not. There is already caselaw involving courts upholding sovereign immunity in these kinds of cases.

    Might be a bit of a stumbling block in regards to suing the entities under the state sovereign immunity umbrella.

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      You can't sue a State or the federal government unless they specifically allow it

      Just a guess here, since I am not a lawyer, but I don't think sovereign immunity protects the states from being sued under federal law.

      • by pacergh (882705)

        It does and it does not. You can sue the state to change its practices, but you cannot sue for money damages.

        Unless you sue under a specific federal statute that allows money damages. One such example is Section 1983—a statute specifically designed to allow folks to sue for violations of civil rights and receive money damages. (Prior to this, you could sue and win, but all you'd get was a change in behavior.

        There is no similar statute for copyright. At best the plaintiffs can stop the behavior, bu

  • "Abducted?" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:00PM (#37382418)

    First it was stealing, now it's abducted. The hyperbole increases. How long before we will be accused of 'killing' copyright holders? But it makes sense this time; we're dealing with the guild that supposedly represents people who know how to create inflammatory language.

    Let us use our own hyperboles:

    "With their infinitely extending copyrights, these guys have been commiting mass murder on the public domain!"
    "They have totally vivesected our rights to have ideas come out of copyright."
    "It's like they're hacking our limbs off, one by one!"

  • by bmo (77928) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:27PM (#37382522)

    Copyright is clearly being abused. It's time to bring it back to 14 years and a 14 year renewal like when they had it in 1790. The framers of the Constitution did not set out to enable you to create one work and sit on your ass for the rest of your life and enrich your grandkids after your demise.

    We should all ignore copyright law as it stands, as practicable. Fuck them. Fuck them all.

    If you are an author: too bad. Your bad apples have declared war on society at large and stolen from the public domain.

    --
    BMO

  • Don't these numbskulls realize that books unread are just paper?
    Not even as good as toilet paper. At least that stuff has a purpose.

  • 1st Rule for the Digital Age: The moment you digitize something, you stand to lose control of it.

    2nd Rule for the Digital Age: Don't digitize something you don't want to lose control over.

  • by markhahn (122033) on Monday September 12, 2011 @09:10PM (#37382720)

    the US constitution had it right: copyrights and patents exist for the purpose of promoting progress. the primary goal isn't to give people a living - particularly not to guarantee profits to some company. we need to rethink the whole legal infrastructure around the concept of IP...

  • This suit has nothing to do with public domain works. It is whether the universities and HathiTrust have a fair use right to digitize copyrighted works for which they can't request permission because they can't find the copyright holder and make digital copies available to students and faculty. This fair use claim is based on one of the four factors for determining fair use of a US copyrighted work: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonpro

  • Why don't they start their own digitization project? I mean, iTunes and Netfix should be of some example here. How much money do Apple make off of iTunes? Why can't the Authors' Guild and its equivalents in Australia, Quebec, and the UK just come together and start their own iBookStore? They have the books, they have the money and they would be swimming in money like Apple with iTunes.

    Are they really enjoy being the asses they are, or are they really that backward? That puzzles me for a long time, even befo

  • The digital works wouldn't be deleted, but [the author's coalition] wants to see "any computer system storing the digital copies powered down and disconnected from any network, pending an appropriate act of Congress." (Note that they want them shut down and unplugged, just to be sure.)

    Stopping the computers from running may be as simple as unplugging them, but getting Congress running takes a lot more money than the author's coalition is likely to have.

  • Simple solution:

    1. Write a book (or a rant, for that matter)
    2. Put it on the internet, somewhere it is likely to be copied illegally
    3. Now go out on the streets, use a megaphone, and start proclaiming you're an author and you don't take it anymore.
    4. Repeat every Saturday morning in a shopping mall.
    5. People in your neighborhood will eventually hate copyright.
    6. ?
    7. Profit.

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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