Saturday, January 30, 2010

Google Book Settlement: Sledgehammer in a Publishing China Shop?

There are many things I like about Google. The company makes the operating system for my Droid phone and my Nook ereader. It provides a terrific search engine. It hosts the very blog on which I am typing these words. It provides all sorts of services and delights on its site. And its book project is making available on the web many old, out of print books that otherwise might age and crumble on library shelves, seen by few.

But I'm not sure I like Google's settlement of a class action brought on behalf of U.S. publishers and authors.

This past Thursday was the deadline for class members to opt out of the settlement; and according to this Associated Press article, (which, incidentally, I pulled up using the Google search engine), there are several objections, primarily about impact on competition and the edge the settlement will give to Google's monetized search engine.

Meanwhile, authors and illustrators have objected to the settlement. Graphic novelist Colleen Doran has raised concerns that the settlement's rules restricting online posting of books still in print apparently don't extend to graphic novels; that Google will be able to post illustrations online without the illustrators getting compensation; and that publishers will be able to post ereader versions of material without compensating the creators. See her posts at,, and Ursula K. LeGuin has filed a petition with the U.S. District Court judge who is overseeing the settlement ( and has resigned from the Authors Guild, stating as her reason the Guild's support for the settlement (

I have not read the settlement (and have little desire to do so; I've got enough legal work on my plate) and I'm not expressing any legal opinion about it. But my personal feeling is that the book market is in a precarious and transitional phase as it struggles to define its existence in a way that embraces the traditional paper book and electronic access. I question whether the Google Settlement is an attempt to address a delicate situation by slamming it with a sledgehammer.

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