homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

Book author to her publishing company: your lawsuit is not helping me or my book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2005

I got an email this morning from a kottke.org reader, Meghann Marco. She’s an author and struggling to get her book out into the hands of people who might be interested in reading it. To that end, she asked her publisher, Simon & Schuster, to put her book up on Google Print so it could be found, and they refused. Now they’re suing Google over Google Print, claiming copyright infringement. Meghann is not too happy with this development:

Kinda sucks for me, because not that many people know about my book and this might help them find out about it. I fail to see what the harm is in Google indexing a book and helping people find it. Anyone can read my book for free by going to the library anyway.

In case you guys haven’t noticed, books don’t have marketing like TV and Movies do. There are no commercials for books, this website isn’t produced by my publisher. Books are driven by word of mouth. A book that doesn’t get good word of mouth will fail and go out of print.

Personally, I hope that won’t happen to my book, but there is a chance that it will. I think the majority of authors would benefit from something like Google Print.

She has also sent a letter of support to Google which includes this great anecdote:

Someone asked me recently, “Meghann, how can you say you don’t mind people reading parts of your book for free? What if someone xeroxed your book and was handing it out for free on street corners?”

I replied, “Well, it seems to be working for Jesus.”

And here’s an excerpt of the email that Meghann sent me (edited very slightly):

I’m a book author. My publisher is suing Google Print and that bothers me. I’d asked for my book to be included, because gosh it’s so hard to get people to read a book.

Getting people to read a book is like putting a cat in a box. Especially for someone like me, who was an intern when she got her book deal. It’s not like I have money for groceries, let alone a publicist.

I feel like I’m yelling and no one is listening. Being an author can really suck sometimes. For all I know speaking up is going to get me blacklisted and no one will ever want to publish another one of my books again. I hope not though.

[My book is] called ‘Field Guide to the Apocalypse’ It’s very funny and doesn’t suck. I worked really hard on it. It would be nice if people read it before it went out of print.

As Tim O’Reilly, Eric Schmidt, and Google have argued, I think these lawsuits against Google are a stupid (and legally untenable) move on the part of the publishing industry. I know a fair number of kottke.org readers have published books…what’s your take on the situation? Does Google Print (as well as Amazon “Search Inside the Book” feature) hurt or help you as an author? Do you want your publishing company suing Google on your behalf?

Reader comments

DanOct 20, 2005 at 11:04AM

Anyone can read my book for free by going to the library anyway.

I think this hits the nail on the head. A very poor strategy by the publishing industry.

Erik V.Oct 20, 2005 at 11:11AM

I haven’t published a book (yet, I hope). A “close acquaintance” has, though, and get this: after he convinced his publisher to make the book’s material freely available online, print sales actually went up.

OverwormOct 20, 2005 at 11:14AM

As an unpublished author, I wouldn’t mind if my one-day published book was available on Google books. I wouldn’t mind if people handed out sections of my book free to anyone who wanted a copy. I wouldn’t mind if used bookstores sold oogles of my books denying me profit from books sold via new book vendors.

As a reader, I’ve discovered dozens of authors through used book stores. As a music fan, I’ve discovered dozens of acts via not-quite-paid-for means. The truth of the matter is that of those authors/acts that I really liked, I ended up buying their new material when it was released.

Before profit must come exposure. As the author pointed out in your article, it’s not like publishers are heavily marketing books by most authors. If exposure is not coming through marketing, it has to come from somewhere else. If Google Books is that somewhere else, then more power to them.

MargaretOct 20, 2005 at 11:22AM

As a reader, I love being able to read a bit of a book on Amazon before buying it. In general, if I go so far to take the time to read part of the book online, I’m seriously interested in buying it, but I want to confirm that it’s something I will enjoy. There have absolutely been times that I have ended up not buying a book on Amazon because I couldn’t read part of it before buying.

Frankly, it’s just like standing in the aisles of a bookstore and reading the first chapter—it’s a way of getting me to buy the book.

As for Google Print, since I’m a student at Harvard (one of Google’s partners in the project), I was really excited when I first heard about it. No more having to run to the library on the day a paper is due because I need to find that elusive quote; no more being unprepared for class because all copies of a book are checked out. It was gonna be great.

Eric BostromOct 20, 2005 at 11:23AM

I like to read a few chapters or pages of a book before I buy/borrow/steal it, whether I’m in a library, book store or on the internet. To that end, when someone recommends a book to me, I’ll dload it from the internet (if possible) just to browse.

What this means for me is that my little “Buy these books” page in my moleskine is populated. I had a birthday in September, and I received nearly all books because I was able to make a great list of books I wanted to read, including “the long emergency” (thanks jason!).

I don’t mind reading a book on my pda or other computer screen, but for now I greatly prefer reading traditional deadtree.

Word of mouth for book distribution is great, but remember word of mouth is also how that horrible book: “The da vinci code” got popular, instead of dying a horrible death as it should have.

SarahOct 20, 2005 at 11:25AM

Often enough, I get a book from the library (for free), read it, take it back, and never miss it. But there are times when I enjoy a library book so much that I purchase it. I don’t buy books that often anyway, so I like to read them before buying. The library is (and Google Print would be) a way for me to “test-drive” books.

This is like renting a movie and liking it so much that I buy the DVD.

I wish Ms. Marco the best of luck with her book.

Beerzie BoyOct 20, 2005 at 11:30AM

Like the music industry, publishers don’t get it. They are shooting themselves in the foot.

Corporations + Artists = Bullshit.

Joshua BlankenshipOct 20, 2005 at 11:33AM

The publishing industry seems like its stuck in time. The scarcity mentality isn’t working. The way we consume/take-in written materials (I hesitate to call it “written media” but that’s what it is) has changed drastically in the past 10-15 years, and will continue to change with technology (like this new thing called the internet.)

Suing Google just seems ridiculous to me (as a 26 year old, internet saavy writer and child of the visual age) but i’m sure it makes complete sense to a 50 year old business exec who doesn’t realize that books are available for free at the library.

MikeOct 20, 2005 at 11:35AM

I bought Cory Doctorow’s “Down and out in The Magical Kingdom” after downloading the text file and converting it to read on my Psion Revo. I liked the first chapter enough to buy the book. Without being able to read some of the book first, I doubt that I would have bought it, and my local book shop didn’t stock it.

Having books available online will probably kill the publishing industry in the same way that home taping killed the recording industry…

GlennOct 20, 2005 at 11:37AM

The Bible — at least the King James Version, maybe not others — is public domain, is it not?

I just read Schmidt’s post. He doesn’t make an argument against the validity of publishers’ lawsuits. The quote he pulls from the Wall Street Journal doesn’t explain why Google Print does or doesn’t count as fair use. The Slate article that is linked in the post doesn’t do a very good job in justifying Google Print as fair use. They all make very good arguments for the kind of system — if not the kind of world — in which authors’ works are made accessible to the masses. It’s hard to argue against such a vision.

And there’s a good justification that the exposure will help some authors find new readers and more sales. The same argument works for relatively unknown artists in the file-sharing debate. Awareness can be difficult to attain. It can be expensive.

What I see missing from the debate is something that I believe (and experts please correct me if I’m wrong) is the true heart of the matter: Google’s creation of a digital copy of a copyrighted work. That Google users can only read small exceprts is quite insignificant — in the eyes of publishers — to the fact that a digital copy has been made.

How about some columns and blog posts that call for a change in copyright law that would allow Google Print to function lawfully and without threat of lawsuit?

ConradGempfOct 20, 2005 at 12:01PM

Three points.

I’m a published author and I’d love my publisher to let me make my books available for free on line. But I’m a lot like Meghann — I’m not a first-rank author but one of those fighting to get my stuff out there where people can see it. Right now if you make my book available for free, sure, it’ll raise my public profile and raise my sales. People will download my book for free.

(Point 1) Publishers are not afraid of losing money on Meghann and me; they’re afraid of losing money on new books by their big authors… the ones that they’re banking on making money from. Very few people head out looking for the best deal on Gempf. Lots of people head out looking for the best deal on Grisham or Allen. It’s no coincidence that those are the books you can’t in fact stroll down to your library to read for free because there’s a 6-week waiting list. So you buy it instead.

And (Point 2) it’s difficult to know whether the evidence we’ve got about sales spiking on freeware books has to do with the novelty. If every book is free… suddenly I’m in the same place online as I am in the bookshop. Everyone’s gonna download Gladwell and Rowling, not me. Long term, Meghann and I’d be in pretty much the same place we are now. Why won’t anyone download my book?

Finally, most people commenting on this issue are talking about publishers and consumers/readers. But (Point 3) publishers don’t sell to the readers, publishers sell to buyers for distributors and bookshops. And these are hard-sell folks who don’t really regard their job as listening to what consumers want. Their job is steering customers toward the highest profit items that are similar to previous successful products. It’s going to be very hard to convince those people to spend prime shelfspace on books that are otherwise downloadable. Those are the people that the publisher has to interface with and answer to, not the eventual readers like you and me.

What many publishers are doing, mine included, is making a sample chapter available for free download. In this way they hope to offer reader/consumers a chance to try the thing for free, but in a way that won’t make them lose credibility with the distributors to whom they have to sell. I’d rather give my book away, but this is a pretty good compromise.

Steven KingOct 20, 2005 at 12:03PM

I would have no problem with my books being on Google. I need the publicity.

David HouseOct 20, 2005 at 12:03PM

I’m sure the publishers have misunderstood. Nothing that people read on Print is ever going to dissuade from someone from buying a book.

Matt BrubeckOct 20, 2005 at 12:13PM

Because obviously the web has withered and died ever since Google started “illegally” copying and indexing web sites…

Apparently publishers believe that Google has destroyed the web, and is coming after them next.

Name*Oct 20, 2005 at 12:18PM

I think what rubs the craw of many people is the opt-out versus opt-in nature of it and both sides have dug in their heels because of it. Meghann is stuck in a bad place and I sympathise with her for it. In future, those with such opinions will use other publishers for future work. But a publisher should have the right to control distribution of their content even if appears to the rest of the world to be against the publisher’s own interest (increased sales). Authors themselves have used the argument against their publishers in the past, particularly print journalists. They’ve successfully won cases, largely based on contracts in place, that prevented the newspapers they worked for from publishing their work on the internet. It should remain their perogative to do so even if it spites their own interest.

It strikes me that there is a curious situation. Authors are using the same argument with their publisher as the publisher is using with the re-publisher (google). That is “it should be my right to decide publication rights”. In the case of author v publisher, that is governed by contract law, in the case of publisher v re-publisher, that is governed by wider laws. Hypocrisy is perhaps too strong a word, but I do think the irony of this has not been picked up on enough.

All this isn’t new, of course, look at the ‘questionable activities’ of findarticles.com which is forever in legal disputes. I don’t see too many people defending them, in part because they don’t have the sheen of google.

Jim ScarboroughOct 20, 2005 at 12:21PM

Not to be siding with the Devil here… but it occurs to me that there are different kinds of books. Novels are ideal for indexing with Google. Indexing recipe books, dictionaries, and almanacs might not result in more sales for those books. It depends entirely on the density of information in the material and the value of having it. Do you want a quick fact or a fun read?

AJ KandyOct 20, 2005 at 12:34PM

I disagree with Mr. Gempf that he would be competing for downloads with the authors of mass-market books. Maybe competing for publicity, but the Internet has a way of disarming meaningless hype and serving as a very efficient conduit between buyers and sellers. All the books I’ve bought in the past year, I found out about through friends’ blogs or special-interest websites. This recommendation community carries more weight than any “in-store promo, endcap merchandising” effort. If your book has an audience - then the Net will help your potential audience find your book.

I agree that copyright needs to be reformed; in the meantime, authors might want to take some notes from the music industry - get together, start an “indie” publishing house and then license the work to “corporate” publishers with national distribution. Collective bargaining of this kind - especially if you have some heavyweights in your corner - can help authors negotiate deals that protect their rights to resell, copy or publish their own work in other media; and of course when the license term expires, you can renegotiate it as needed.

JDOct 20, 2005 at 12:35PM

You and your correspondent seem to be confusing Google Print with Google Library. They are two different programs, and the heart of the issue is in the difference.

If Simon and Schuster isn’t using Google Print it may be a bad marketing decision, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the lawsuit. The lawsuit is about Google Library, and unlike Google Print, the Library program scans books without asking for permission from the copyright holder.

The issue with Google Library is whether a company has the right under fair use to include the full text of copyrighted books in their index without securing permission from the publishers. My feeling is that regardless of whether they are making the full text available, they are making a copy of a publisher’s book without permission, and publishers are rightly up in arms about this. Google knows that they are on dicey ground here, because they offer publishers a way to opt-out of the library program; and like junk-mail, whenever you see an opt-out program, you know something sketchy is going on.

Google’s defense for the opt-out approach is that it’s simply too difficult to get permission to scan all of the books in print. That’s not much of a defense though. If they can afford to hire third-world labor to OCR the books they can afford to ask permission from the copyright holders (that’s why publishers put isbns on their books) .Publishers and writers (not to mention printers, distributors, bookstore clerks and librarians) put a lot of time into books – why should Google get a pass? Their defense that the technology prevents it doesn’t wash.

This is a more complex issue than many of the Meghann and many “copyfighters” seem to realize. It’s not that publishers are ignorant of the promotional value of google-print (and look-inside)– but they do expect to be asked before they are opted into another company’s venture; especially when that venture is based on violating their copyright.

AndyOct 20, 2005 at 12:38PM

This reminds me of a recent search for medical journal articles. A deeper interest in a certain rare medical condition than Yahoo health could provide. One would think something as altruistic as scientific medical research would be indexed and available free for all. Naturally science builds on previous science…Haha…not…almost all articles were vaulted behind big fat walls with $100 plus admission cost. Seems counter productive in this day and age. All books, articles, research, movies etc should be available to all…If only someone could figure out how to do this so all the geniuses still got paid…Hopefully google will keep up the good fight…

Alex DorphOct 20, 2005 at 12:47PM

Well this is nice because I for one would be interested in getting my hands on such media.


Meghann MarcoOct 20, 2005 at 1:02PM

There has been some discussion about the lawsuit and Google Print vs. Google Print Library. I’d just like to clarify that I requested that my book be included in Google Print and was denied by my publisher Simon and Schuster.

The lawsuit is specifically about Google Print Library, which (from what I understand) is somewhat different but it has not been made clear to me exactly how, aside from that fact that it appears to be mostly scholarly books that are affected by this lawsuit. My book, a humor title, does not appear to be involved in the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, I would like to stress that I was told by Simon and Schuster that they would not allow me to participate in Google Print. I was not offered an explanation.

Hope that clears things up a bit.

Ron FranscellOct 20, 2005 at 1:03PM

From author and blogger Ron Franscell at http://underthenews.blogspot.com …

Back when Napster was arguing — in vain — that musicians were somehow improved by the free sharing of their hard work, I was mildly perplexed. What didn’t cyberspace and its clone-army of teenage freeloaders understand about artists (or anyone really) expecting to be compensated for their skills? Fortunately, a judge agreed and free file-sharing is no longer openly promoted.

Comes now Google with its plan to scan every book in three major libraries — and, one must assume, eventually every book ever printed. The idea, the mega-monstrous Google argues, is to make public-domain books available online and to create a super-referenced “cyber-card catalog” of everything else. That’s not a problem for books like “Oliver Twist” or “Pride and Prejudice” or “Mutiny on the Bounty” or any other works older than 100 years, all of which can be freely reprinted in any form.

But for books like, say, “Angel Fire” by Ron Franscell — published in 1998 and still earning royalties enough to buy a Whopper every year or so — Google is coming perilously close to usurping my riches for its own profit. Google says it won’t offer online versions of any copyrighted books without the authors’ and publishers’ permission, but forgive me for being a little Napster- and Amazon-jaded. With a few extra clicks, my books could be read by anyone online and I will forever be robbed of my annual Whopper. And so will my heirs, dammit.

Right now, Amazon offers the sale of used books — sometimes on the same day the book hits shelves for the first time — and takes its cut from the sale. But the author makes zip. Amazon also asks for more of a share of the book profits than any other bookseller, and far more than the author ever gets. The typical $25 book sold at Amazon earns more than $14 for Amazon and less than $2 for the author. And when it’s sold again in the “used” market, Amazon has found a way to keep profiting, but the author and publisher are cut out entirely.

Face it, nobody (including greedy Google, Napster and Amazon) is going to invest millions in a system for the benefit of public erudition and artists’ profit. Authors have always politely or passionately supported libraries, which are the pre-millennial version of Napster where one copy is passed around freely without ever earning the author more than the royalty on one sale. In cyberspace, they don’t even buy it once!

So what? Well, what artist will invest his sweat, blood, tears and money in a craft for which he cannot possible make a profit? The ultimate effect of Internet profit-centers stealing art (and any profits to made from it) is the death of art. Royalties and direct sales have been the only ways most artists can sustain themselves, and now we’re putting control of our world’s art in the hands of a bunch of light-averse computer geeks?

Let Google provide the world’s best search engine. Let Google provide this blog-spot (as it does.) Let Google sell all the online ads cyberspace can hold. But, for crying out loud, don’t steal the books I didn’t write for your bottom-line.

jkottkeOct 20, 2005 at 1:09PM

You and your correspondent seem to be confusing Google Print with Google Library. They are two different programs, and the heart of the issue is in the difference.

The Library Project is a part of the overall Google Print initiative (the major part going forward…they plan to scan a lot more books than publishers would submit), another part of which is their Publisher Program, where publishers can submit books to be searched. From Google’s standpoint, if the publishers won’t let them scan and index the massive amount of library books, Google Print becomes a much less useful and effective resource…and why should they expend energy on the Publisher Program, giving the publishers free exposure?

What I see missing from the debate is something that I believe (and experts please correct me if I’m wrong) is the true heart of the matter: Google’s creation of a digital copy of a copyrighted work. That Google users can only read small exceprts is quite insignificant — in the eyes of publishers — to the fact that a digital copy has been made.

Glenn, this is a great point…I was wondering about it after I posted this. Google doesn’t own these books, but the libraries do and as I understand it, they are authorizing Google to create copies of the books on their (the libraries’) behalf, a backup of sorts. No idea whether this is legally valid or not from a copyright perspective.

I’m also wondering, where are the lawsuits against Amazon? Do they get permission from publishers for their Search Inside the Book feature? And if not, why do they get a pass? Because the publishers don’t want to piss off the biggest bookseller on Earth? Or because it’s so closely tied to commerce?

MichaelOct 20, 2005 at 1:20PM

I think if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing even if it’s difficult. The law is clear on the fact that to do what Google wants to do, they must have the permission of the copyright owner, whether that is the publisher or the author (or whoever else that might be).

Google’s mistake is that there are two issues to solve - technical and legal/permissions and they are only interested in solving one of them. I am disappointed in Google that they don’t try and go through proper channels to gain the permission for each book they wish to index. It would be hard work, and we might think we know the response in advance, but I’m not sure if that would indeed be the response. I think the current response is more a function of how Google is going about this.

If Google asked the publishers on a title-by-title basis and were systematically refused, this would place the responsibility for this problem on the right party, the copyright owners, and pressure could be brought to bear on the copyright owners to allow Google to do their thing. Some publishers and authors would defect from the party line, which would put even more pressure on their big-league colleagues to move in the right direction.

But if Google never really asks, rather they demand using a silly opt-out mechanism, then the publishers’ hands are forced - they have no choice but to try to prevent this. And so Google becomes the bad guy and the publishers are never really tested.

Google cannot and should not be just a technology company if they want to embark on projects like this. And until they put as much emphasis on the legal and other aspects of a problem as they do on solving the technical issues, they can and should fail.

NelsOct 20, 2005 at 1:29PM

My comment post wound up being too long. So, instead of taking up space here, it is here:


JoeOct 20, 2005 at 1:35PM

Like most people commenting, I like the idea of putting books online. The publishing companies are just out to get money on this- When you go to barnes and noble, borders, or any other book store, you are able to sit down and read the book in the store without getting in trouble. Then, if you like what you see, you will buy it. Google is doing the same thing- except instead of having to drive to the book store, you can read it there and then order it online.

wOct 20, 2005 at 1:44PM

According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (quoted in an article from January, 2005), sales of books which allow Search Inside the Book are 9 percent higher than books that do not.

JonOct 20, 2005 at 2:30PM

A note on the idea of making digital copies of library books, especially reference books. A lot of this thread seems to be about fiction authors. But how does Google Print affect research? My girlfriend recently just earned her doctorate at one of the biggest scientific colleges in the nation. When she submitted her thesis to be filed in the reference library, they asked her to submit it in hardcopy and to provide five or six key words which would be used to reference the microfiche scans they would be making to add to their reference library. Her six years of work is boiled down to five words on a dusty microfiche never to be seen again. This seems completely insane to me. As a scientist, she not only wants other people to read her work, but she wants researchers to be able to use her work to help cure diseases and further scientific knowledge. If Google has the ability to scan the entire text and make it’s entire contents searchable, it makes the information more accessable than the actual copyright owner, which in this case is the college itself. If someone finds a cure for a disease because they found something in an obscure thesis in Google Print, does it matter whether or not Google made a profit or not? No matter what the motive, isn’t it important to make information accessable to those who can use it to better the world? Sure there is room for abuse, but you take the good with the bad.

JDOct 20, 2005 at 2:41PM

Meghann – your publisher probably isn’t working a with google because they are locked in the lawsuit on the library end. But you should ask them to include your book in Amazon’s look-inside program – that might actually help sell books.

To Jason’s points

if the publishers won’t let them scan and index the massive amount of library books, Google Print becomes a much less useful and effective resource…and why should they expend energy on the Publisher Program, giving the publishers free exposure?

Nobody is preventing google from scanning the massive amount of public domain library books, they just want to insure that copyrighted books are handled the same way they are for the Publisher program – which is to say with permission. As for the “free exposure” – a publisher would counter “why should google get our content to sell ads?” The value goes both ways.

“I’m also wondering, where are the lawsuits against Amazon? Do they get permission from publishers for their Search Inside the Book feature? “

Yes, publishers explicitly give Amazon permission to scan those books.

“Google doesn’t own these books, but the libraries do and as I understand it, they are authorizing Google to create copies of the books on their (the libraries’) behalf, a backup of sorts.”

Google is scanning the books for their index, and then giving the library a copy for their backup. So essentially there are two copies being made – one for the library, one for google. Which is even dodgier, really.

The argument most of the people who support google use seems to be “wouldn’t it be cool if every book in the world was full-text indexed.” And yes, it would be cool, but it would also be cool if every book in the world was free and available on google. The fact is, there is an industry behind books, and there are reasons publishers defend that copyright. It’s tough to pay the authors, editors, copyeditors, printers, etc, if your copyright isn’t protected.

My sense is google library goes against the “don’t be evil maxim.” Why else refuse to ask permission to do something? Becasue google doesn’t want to be limited in what they can copy. If google were offering to do this out of the goodness of their hearts, to aid future research, etc, then that would be one thing - but this is an extension of their brand and a way to sell advertising.

An index of all the world’s books would do very little to help individual authors, but it would be a boon for google’s ad reps.

jkottkeOct 20, 2005 at 2:57PM

Yes, publishers explicitly give Amazon permission to scan those books.

I suspected as much. Do you have a source on this?

JDOct 20, 2005 at 3:00PM

And you’re right - when I say google print above I meant google Publisher. Google Library, as far as I know, doesn’t actually exist yet – what you see on print.google.com is largely publisher approved content.

TarynOct 20, 2005 at 3:00PM

Ron, you’re parroting the publishing industry’s nonsense.

But let’s address the most flagrant of your incorrect assertions:

…what artist will invest his sweat, blood, tears and money in a craft for which he cannot possible make a profit? The ultimate effect of Internet profit-centers stealing art (and any profits to made from it) is the death of art.

The difference between artists and craftsman is huge, but I’ll not turn my response into a visit from the word police. Just note the distinction. And to answer your first question: Henry Miller, Steinbeck, Van Gogh and Kahlo…I could go on and on, but you can use your library card to read some biographies.

The “death of art” came when we allowed corporations to serve as curators and gate-keepers. We have crappy music and crappy movies, a table full of crappy best-sellers and crappy visual art that attempts to do little more than pique aesthetic curiosity. There’s a reason for this. In order to “get in”, artists have been forced to appeal to the masses, or at least to a few gate-keepers who control what the under-educated philistine masses call “art”. The benefit of being a second-rate sell-out has been a few percentage points of the profit on our OWN INTELLECTUAL property. If you’re satisfied with your annual whopper while your publisher eats stake, that’s ok for you. It’s not ok for the rest of us, and it certainly isn’t ok for art.

Internet technology and self-publishing is a boon to artists everywhere. Those of us who embrace it will come out ahead, and culture will be better off for it. Although I don’t think the situation is quite that extreme, I’ll humor the sentiment by saying I’d gladly put the world’s art in the hands of a bunch of light-averse computer geeks if it means wresting it from the clutches of myopic and regressive corporations. Besides that, the “geeks” are an inclusive bunch, and the only thing keeping artists from using “computer geek” to their own many advantages is laziness and ignorance.

I’m sure many of Jason’s regular readers are thinking “Long Tail” and “Seth Godin”. You might look them up. In fact, Google’s a good place to start.

As far as Google’s legal right to produce a digital copy of a copyrighted work, I’m tempted to dismiss the whole uninteresting little issue as one that arises when technology renders old laws irrelevant.

There are tons of ways technology can make your ideas more profitable, and I’m not talking about adsense or pulling a Kottke. The industry may suffer as a result, but the industry has not been a friend.

Good luck to you!

Meghann MarcoOct 20, 2005 at 3:01PM

JD- I asked to be included in that program as well but did not get a response.

NicholasOct 20, 2005 at 3:02PM

Actually, Amazon’s Search Inside is opt in.

I’m not an author, but my wife has one book published and about three more sold and preparing to be published. Not too long ago, we were discussing ways to increase her visibility online. I suggested asking her publisher to get the book indexed in Google’s Print program. My wife wouldn’t even discuss it. It’s not that she’s anti-Google, but she didn’t want to make enemies with any publishers. She’s a relatively new author in a competitive field; publishers hold all the cards.

Interestingly enough, the type of contracts that authors sign usually do give publishers the right to sue on behalf of the author (every contract that I’ve seen has had that part expilicitly stated), and author’s can’t republish their own work. So, as bad as it may seem, you do need your publishers permission to opt into a program like Google Print for your own work.

On the other hand, there’s is strong precedence in favor of Google’s Library initiative. Ever wonder why no one sues search engines for copying digital works? Well, someone did and they lost (Kelly vs. Arriba-Soft). It’s not a giant leap to apply that same ruling to indexing books in a search engine.

JamesOct 20, 2005 at 3:10PM

(obs)This may be the best comment thread I’ve ever read on a blog.(/obs)

From the FAQs of Google Print:


How is my content protected?

Google hosts all material on our secure servers. We disable the print, cut, copy, and save functionality on all pages displaying book content, in order to protect your material. In addition, you can choose how much of your book a user will be able to view over a 30 day period, from 20% of your content up to 100%. Portions of your book will be available to all interested users, but those users wanting to browse additional pages must sign in with their Google Account to view the full pages. (They will still be restricted to the percentage of the book you choose to make available.) Google Print is a book marketing program, not an online library, and as such your entire book will not be made available online unless you expressly permit it.”


Q: Authors and publishers scrap tooth and nail to get their books serialized / excerpted in newspapers and magazines. So how is the same thing online different?

In my opinion, used book sales are far more a threat to author royalties than someone finding a book, deciding to highlight the whole thing and copy and paste it into another format on their desktop. Used book sales are almost 1-to-1 direct new book (read: royalties) lost since the price point is very similar.

To further muddy the copyright waters, almost all author copyrights are only sold to the publishers for a limited time, or until the book is ruled out of print. Then the copyright reverts to the author. So if they intend to respect copyrights, Google has to have agreements with the publisher (for the duration of the copyright assignment) and / or the author (if the copyright reverts), depending on the time and status of the copyright. Yeesh. No wonder Google is seeking foregiveness rather than asking permission.

And in case anyone is wondering, I want my book included in every online indexing mechanism that I’ve seen so far - Amazon, Google, etc. I think it drives interest and exposure and sales, not just for the searched-for book but for any additional material that I have written or will write. Being a writer is all about building and maintaining an audience. Anything that helps rocks.

smaxOct 20, 2005 at 3:11PM

Seems both authors and publishers would benefit from services like Google Print and Amazon’s look inside… Seems like they should be paying Google and Amazon for the service and marketing, not sueing them.

TimOct 20, 2005 at 3:12PM

While my personal beliefs tend towards more openness, it seems that some sort of equation could be derived that could make publishers happy.

You’ve got little known authors in need of big promotion on one end of the spectrum, and big authors in need of protecting their work a little on the other. The amount of exposure of their work on Google Print could be inversely proportional to their popularity (in $ sales), with a threshold amount at which point Google would remove their work entirely, or something.

JDOct 20, 2005 at 3:17PM

Jason -
I don’t have a source (other than me, and I’d like to be anon) but Amazon pages that don’t have search inside invite publishers to give permission:

Meghann - it sounds like your publishers are ignoring your email on, which sucks - but S and S does have Jarhead in the search inside program on amazon, so it’s something that they do - ask your editor to push it.

Taryn: feel free to publish whatever you like for free, as widely as you’d like, just don’t force others to do the same. There are still publishers and authors who make a living selling books to small groups of readers - and 5,000 book buyers is better than a world of surfers for many publishers. Also… google is the giant corporation. It’s the publishers who are the little guys in this fight.

Meghann MarcoOct 20, 2005 at 3:19PM

Some more clarification:

The Library Project will be much the same as the Google Print program that I am not allowed to take part in. From Google’s info site:

” When we scan a book from a library, we add the full text of that book into our Google Print index creating essentially the next generation of the card catalog. Just as we store copies of Web pages in order to search them, we need a full copy of each book in order to include it in our index and allow users to search it effectively. Though every page becomes searchable, how much of the book a user can actually read is determined by its copyright status. If the book is in the public domain, users can view all of the pages. If the book is potentially still in copyright (see how we determine this), we show only three samples where the keyword appears. ”

As far as I can see, the lawsuit is concerned with the opt-out vs opt-in mechanism. Since Simon and Schuster can currently prevent me from opting-in, there is no reason for them to sue.

In the case of the Library Project, they are using an opt-out device, which I assume is the point of debate. My source for this is here:


My main point of contention is that I would like my book to be searchable and they are not willing to let me opt-in I do not feel that Google’s practices violate my copyright.

JDOct 20, 2005 at 3:37PM

Meghann –
If you sold the electronic rights to your publisher they aren’t really your rights anymore, unfortunately.

Yes, publishers should be doing everything they can to put their book in as many indexes as they can, and if your publisher isn’t they aren’t doing a very good job, but it’s the copyright holder’s decision. Google’s attempt to get around it without permission is pretty egregious, and it makes sense for publishers to react.

JRMOct 20, 2005 at 3:43PM


Jason, here’s a simple language version of the issues surrounding the Amazon Look Inside feature.

TarynOct 20, 2005 at 4:06PM

JD -

Feel free to misrepresent my words to suit your own argument. I’m not suggesting anyone force stay-the-course types to get with the program - they’ll die out in their own time. I will, however, encourage artists not to fear technology or laws that interrupt the exchange of ideas for the sake of corporate profit.

While Google may be bigger than the “little guy” publishers, my understanding is that Google does not stand to profit from its Library - in fact vendors (and many of them small) do.

I’m sure there are plenty of authors who rely on small numbers of buyers - so what? It’s no reason to stand in the way of creative technology (yes, coders are artists too!). Invention blazes paths to profit while closing others down. Refrigeration put the milk man out of a job, and the world didn’t stop turning.

Maybe the authors who live off 5000 sales every year should write something else. Maybe an author can self-publish her manuscripts and keep 100% of the profit of a lower price tag and come out the same - or maybe even ahead! She might even sell more copies that way. Maybe a system that better approaches a meritocracy will create 10,000 additional readers for that author. Maybe it’ll spark a speaking invitation, students, a television show - as long as there’s a decent search engine to help readers find what they’re looking for.

Taryn: feel free to publish whatever you like for free, as widely as you’d like, just don’t force others to do the same. There are still publishers and authors who make a living selling books to small groups of readers - and 5,000 book buyers is better than a world of surfers for many publishers. Also… google is the giant corporation. It’s the publishers who are the little guys in this fight.

Name*Oct 20, 2005 at 4:06PM

My main point of contention is that I would like my book to be searchable and they are not willing to let me opt-in I do not feel that Google’s practices violate my copyright.

No, but they violate the publisher’s copyright. Perhaps this will sound harsher than I mean, but next try to pick a publisher that is e-friendly if that matters to you.

There could well be workarounds for you, potentially including your right to republish electronically.

JDOct 20, 2005 at 4:23PM

While Google may be bigger than the “little guy” publishers, my understanding is that Google does not stand to profit from its Library - in fact vendors (and many of them small) do.

You’re wrong, google does stand to profit, through adwords. And there are plenty of independent book publishers that are affected as well - indeed, anyone with an ISBN.

MegOct 20, 2005 at 6:26PM

I’m in absolute agreement with Taryn — the very reason these companies are taking exception is that artists ARE daring to think outside the profit box and see what else could be in store for them. Exposure on Google is brilliant for any of us in terms of the opportunities it affords.

I lived off writing a blog for six months — no ads, no links, no sponsors — and if I can do it, anyone can. I simply put text out every day and put up a link to PayPal. I mentioned the link once, in total. I didn’t give a cent to any publisher and I certainly didn’t charge people to view it. It’s not even controversial or fascinating or newsworthy!

But people will support things that they feel are genuine creative endeavours. I believe Meghann would sell many more books with exposure through Google and endear herself to a whole section of the population who would and DO go out and buy books they’ve read and/or sampled online. And they recommend them to their friends. And they blog about them. Publishers have to get with current media notions and stop panicking for their profits.

I believe a great number of the legendary authors we now revere would support what Google is doing — in fact, much of what they’ve written IS on the web now, but publishing companies still make millions of dollars off them every year. Witness Oprah co-opting Faulkner for her hideous little club! You can get Faulkner for much less almost anywhere, but the publishing companies made a mint off a reprint.

I feel no sympathy for them. They care about art and authors about as much as Oprah really cares about anything but name recognition.

aOct 20, 2005 at 7:25PM

I am not quite familiar with publishing contracts, but isn’t the publisher more or less supposed to act in the best interest of the author? I would think that I would be reading through my contract right now finding a way to sue my publisher over this. Its obvious to everybody else that this would be a benefit to authors, and to consumers.

Ned BatchelderOct 20, 2005 at 7:44PM

Like an earlier commenter, I am not an author, but my wife is, and what I’ve learned so far (two months) is that publicity is really hard, and often is left to the author, who must work her ass off to get the word out.

As a reader, I know that looking in the book is the best way to remove uncertainty about whether I will like the book or not (as others have said: like browsing the book at the store). I can easily imagine having the text online will improve sales. We’ve done it ourselves by putting excerpts on my wife’s site (http://susansenator.com/makingpeace.html), which I, not the publisher have created and paid for.

I hate to see the book publishers heading the way of the music industry.

Patrick CostelloOct 20, 2005 at 7:46PM

To be honest, I can’t say that Google Print or Look Inside The Book have done all that much for sales of my books.

I started up a microscopically small publishing company about two years ago. A project I had put together to help out some high school kids starting up an after-school folk music club turned into a full-fledged book, and after shopping the title around to some publishers decided I’d be better off doing everything myself.

Anyway, we’ve done alright for ourselves and we’ve been able to move a lot of books over the past two years.

The funny thing is that I don’t see hardly any of those sales coming from Google Print or Look inside The Book.

Oh we do all right on Amazon. The sales rank for my first book will be around 30,000 on a good week and around 200,000 on a bad week (I know that’s not exactly great, but we are talking about a banjo book here), but that’s just a fraction of our monthly sales.

The one thing we did that got results was releasing all three titles under Creative Commons. Putting the books out into the commons has done more for our little business than any of the high-tech boondoggles being argued over in court. The only reasons I can think of for the difference in results is the simplicity of it.

See, Google Print and even look Inside The Book have some great features, but nine out of ten people shopping online don’t know how to use those features. The geeks might know how to use them, but geeks are actually a pretty small demographic when you stop to think of how many people forty and over are wandering the web with fistfuls of cash.

Going CC automatically put us into Google and every other search engine. It also got us a plug from BoingBoing. Those two thing alone could make a difference in launching a book - but when you add in the goodwill that comes from making a work accessible you end up with marketing mojo that money just can’t buy.

My advice to any writer out there would be to first tell the publishers to go pound sand. If you shop around and are willing to do a little bit of creative thinking the costs for printing a book are pretty cheap. Get your ISBN numbers and your bar code together and then set up an Amazon Advantage account. Once Amazon is rolling start looking for an honest distributor (that can be tough, but it’s doable).

Once that’s underway, head over to Creative Commons.

Sure, sign up for Google Print and Look Inside The Book. Use every resource you can get your mitts on - but don’t expect them to do all that much. Thin outside the box, don’t buy into the hype and be aware that as long as the publishing industry is hopping around fighting over this nonsense small presses have a unique opportunity to find an opening and claim an itty-bitty piece of the market for themselves.

joshuaOct 20, 2005 at 8:51PM

Because obviously the web has withered and died ever since Google started “illegally” copying and indexing web sites…

How is scanning in a book and indexing that any different than indexing a web site? Websites are copyrighted…

Google makes copies of websites, don’t they? Of course they do, they have the cache.

So is Google willfully violating the copyright of everyone who publishes on the web? Of course, you can always opt-out of indexing your site, but that’s not enough is it?

Have there been any lawsuits of this nature? Couldn’t you put Google out of business by filing a suit against the whole concept of a “search engine”?

If not, then I repeat, how is this any different than indexing books?

Michael PoweOct 20, 2005 at 8:53PM

It seems a lot of people are missing a major point about books available “online” and that is readability.

I use the Safari Bookshelf through O’Reilly for accessing technical books online. It is a pretty cool service: for $15/mo I get access to up to 10 books at a time from a pool of several thousand titles. I use the service to research technical topics and as a reference library. But — like most people, I believe — I find it nearly impossible to read an entire book online. If the book is good enough and necessary enough to be read in toto, I buy it.

One technical publishing house from whom I purchase regularly, now provides the choice of PDF or paper versions of a book, a combination of both and a discount on the paper version if you buy the PDF and then come back later for the bound copy. I have four books from them, PDF and bound copies of each.

Frankly, I find it impossible to believe that very many people are going to download an entire 300 page novel and print it. Paper, ink and hassle will be more than the dollar value of the book. This paradigm lacks the simplicity of an MP3 or pirated digital movie, which are used on disk.

Jealousy of copyright won’t make you famous or widely read or read 100 years from now. It won’t even make you rich. Nor will your publisher. For those outcomes, you must rely on your own determination and skill. And some luck, too.


Topsy SmalleyOct 20, 2005 at 9:07PM

I’m a librarian in a college library. I use print.google.com a lot with students. I’ve had several turn to amazon.com then to buy the book. This generates interest and sales. That’s our experience, anyway. It’s a ggreat research tool

anonOct 20, 2005 at 11:44PM

The bottom line here is this: publishers are suing Google *not* because of some high-minded ideals about copyright infringement, but because ** they want to continue to control their authors’ exposure **.

Right now, the publishing houses control how “discoverable” an author is. It varies by case, but for the typical midlist author, they rely absolutely on their publisher to throw a few rays of light on their book.

If Google succeeds, then the playing field suddenly becomes much more level. I can search, and serendipity is now possible. Controlled through some completely impersonal machine-learning algorithms, and not through Penguin’s marketing department.

For those of us who are readers, not writers, let the litigious publishers know what you think of them.

DurfOct 20, 2005 at 11:57PM

A few quick comments:

* “It seems to be working for Jesus” is an inane comment unless she’s going to be happy making as much money as Jesus does for that book he shows up in.

* Related to this: “Massive popularity at the cost of getting little to no income from your work” is one fairly likely outcome of the Google effort. It’s a great idea in a lot of ways and many authors will support it, but it’ll take like three days for some clever coder to look at the APIs and release BookSucker 1.0, which goes and grabs the entire sequence of pages from a book and knits them into a PDF. Hey, everyone will be reading your stuff, but I hope you held on to the day job.

* If Meghann Marco wants total control over distribution channels for her stuff, she can self-publish. That’s a path that has always been there, just like it’s there for musicians who want to slap their MP3s up on a server. There’s no requirement that you go suckle at the teat of a publisher, music or print, if your prime goal is to get stuff you created out in the public eye.

Karl-Friedrich LenzOct 21, 2005 at 12:00AM

It may be correct for many authors that choosing to participate in some kind of Google-like program is a good idea.

That however, is not a valid reason to force every author to participate in these programs or start opting out to potentially millions of search engine programs popping up over the planet.

Those who want to opt in to some search engine for whatever reason will always be able to do so (if they don’t have signed away their rights to a publisher, as the author discussed in the post above). They might even build a plug-in to the Creative Commons license to give a blanket license to every search engine for that purpose, even if the search engine in question makes money from the process and the Creative Commons license in question is a “non-commercial” flavor.

Those who want for whatever reason that search engines respect their rights and ask first to include works in a database should have their choice respected as well.

You don’t need a reason to deny a license. Much less do you need a good reason to do so.

Therefore, the question if authors should think that there are good reasons to get included should really not be ever so relevant.

It’s the copyright holder’s choice. Stop the anti-choice rhetoric already.

IngridOct 21, 2005 at 2:44AM

Student’s will probably use the new google service instead of going to a library and borrow a book for getting quotations to use in theses. Bloggers might copy-paste quotes from Google Books as well. And in this last instance, there is another thing that Google can do, even in collaboration with publishers: refer to the original book by way of an advertisement put on a page containing such a quotation.

MeganOct 21, 2005 at 3:05AM

As a consumer, when I can sample something before buying (either books, MP3s, magazine articles, etc.) I buy less overall. However, I buy more of what I like and am not stuck feeling wasteful or fed up because I’ve been forced to buy something that was misrepresented. But once I do find something (let’s say a new genre or author) that I like through sampling I will buy a large volume of material since I am sure that I like it.

MichaelOct 21, 2005 at 9:28AM

Again, though, why couldn’t Google have simply asked for the rights up front?

That’s how it works when you do new things. You develop a prototype, you market the concept to your prospective partners who are required to make it happen, you encourage and negotiate with them to get on board, you respect their standing as legitimate stakeholders in the program, then you roll out with a limited proof of concept with one of the more visionary partners as a way to spur on participation by the others. Eventually you have a system that’s strong enough that no one can afford to be on the outside looking in.

I would love this plan to go forward, but as long as Google considers it mostly a technological issue they will be stymied - and so they should. If Google thinks this is a good idea it’s their JOB to make the case with publishers. You don’t do that through ultimatums.

BillOct 21, 2005 at 9:49AM

I think I read most of the posts but may have missed this thread. How about just skipping the oldline publishers and publish on-line. Author’s choice to put a chapter or two or the entire book. I admit total ignorance re what exists. Is there already on on-line outlet “publisher if you will” for authors that want to do this? Seems like this could really take off. And the business model isn’t that hard to imagine.

BenOct 21, 2005 at 10:15AM

Like a few others, I am curious about the distinction between opt-out indexing of books and opt-out indexing of websites. Apparently either A) there is a well defined legal difference, or B) opt-out indexing of websites is also a violation of copyright. Does anyone have a good answer for this?

I suppose one difference is that most web pages out there don’t directly cost money to view, so there is no immediate worry of direct loss of revenue if someone offers up snippets. But that doesn’t sound like anything that would have legal backing. Snippets of someone else’s copyrighted work either are or are not legal, I would think.

The real motivation for the ruckus is of course the same as SCO’s and the RIAA’s. The world is a-changin’, and some economies are bound to change. Companies heavily invested in the “old” way of doing things are of course obligated to try to prevent the inevitable. Anything else would be counter to stockholder best interests. But making a ruckus is far easier when you can scrounge around and find a way to use a law as a shield against the “new economy” competition.

(I’m not necessarily saying that publishers are intepreting the law incorrectly, or that the law is invalid and should be changed, I’m just pointing out that a public corporation suing another public corporation is _always_ in it for the money, and a public corporation is also _always_ more interested in maintaining the status quo than in advocating a future that doesn’t need them, no matter how bright that future may or may not happen to be. (Such is capitalism, and we are ostensibly better off having it work that way… but we are even better off if we actually understand and acknowledge that it does work that way.))

James B FranksOct 21, 2005 at 11:25AM

Baen Books, http://www.baen.com has been offering free books online for a few years now. Take a look at the free library link.

Darren James HarknessOct 21, 2005 at 11:29AM

I’d love to have my book (Apache Essentials - a guide to configuring Apache for non-nerds) in Google Print, if for no other reason than it might sell a couple more copies and get into the hands of someone who can really use it.

It also ensures that, after the publisher decides to stop printing it, that the book’s contents are available somewhere other than my hard drive. And to me, that’s a really good thing.

jason kennedyOct 21, 2005 at 1:02PM

james franks

it would be good if any of the downloads in the “free library” link on baen.com were NOT corrupted zips

Shannon OkeyOct 21, 2005 at 1:43PM

Meghann’s post/etc really struck a chord with me, a fellow author, and I responded to her with this:

“My own book [see knitgrrl.com] contains quite a bit of content that’s already out there (online, etc) for free…It’s a learn-to-knit book, for heaven’s sake! But if parts were available online so people could see just how good the unique content is, they might be more inclined to buy mine instead of someone else’s.

(And, as someone who specialized in a really WEIRD academic topic for her master’s thesis, I WISH there had been Google Print back when every single book I needed to interlibrary loan existed in only one or two libraries in the entire country — could have saved myself SO much time searching for the right items that didn’t duplicate info I already had!)”

I’d be livid if any of the publishers I work with (I have 3 more books coming out next year) joined this lawsuit!

John BookreaderOct 21, 2005 at 1:51PM

There is a lot of BS in these comments. Google is not making the book available. A Google search will not in any way be a replacement for the book and so potentially can only increase sales.

Copyright law is not an absolute right. Entire works can be copied if it doesn’t affect the original market for the work. This program and web search in general are perfect examples. This in no way is the entire book or a replacement for a book unless the copyright holder wants that. It is only a snippet.

Publishers just greedy.

ChesterOct 21, 2005 at 2:52PM

Of course you think the lawsuits are stupid. You site consists entirely of reposting other people’s work. Link, link, link, link… You are like an automated google.

IngridOct 21, 2005 at 3:22PM

@jason kennedy , and @ james franks”
Baen Books’ decision to make books available as free downloads on the internet actually drives their sales. This point and many more are given byCory Doctorow.

DarrelOct 21, 2005 at 5:21PM

Anyone can read my book for free by going to the library anyway.

I so worry that the RIAA/MPAA/**AA companies will finally think ‘yea! she’s right! We gotta start suing libraries!’

Seems like that’s the direction our idiotic media laws are heading towards…

JacobOct 21, 2005 at 6:18PM

Ben says:
Like a few others, I am curious about the distinction between opt-out indexing of books and opt-out indexing of websites. Apparently either A) there is a well defined legal difference, or B) opt-out indexing of websites is also a violation of copyright. Does anyone have a good answer for this?

Ben- If I remember correctly the difference is that making copies of the sites you visit on the web underlys the technology of the Internet. For example, when you visit this site what happens is your broswer downloads a copy of the webpage files to your browser cache and your actually viewing that copy rather than the most current one on the web. Since any browsing or use of the web is reliant on these copies being made, that is how the opt-out indexing of websites is allowed. The assumption is that since your opting to publish something on the web you are understanding that this copying is going on and that you would be able to exclude your site from indexing using protocols like the robots.txt protocol or putting your material behind password protection authorization so it couldn’t be automatically indexed. If I can find some sources for this I’ll post them later but that’s what I recall from classes and personal research.

I think part of the reason that publishers and the Authors Guild are against this is that Google is claiming this copying is being done under the “fair use” exemption of copyright, presumably the educational benefit, even though they are planning to make money off of it through either referrals via Google Print or contexual ads based on the copyrighted material. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but the publishers aren’t sueing for an injunction at the libraries participating in this project to cease and desist but rather that Google must destroy it’s copy but not necessarily the libraries.

AugustOct 21, 2005 at 8:20PM

Maybe the authors who live off 5000 sales every year should write something else. Maybe an author can self-publish her manuscripts and keep 100% of the profit of a lower price tag and come out the same - or maybe even ahead!

Is that ever some ridiculous nonsense. I should be a hack because art doesn’t sell? I don’t want to sully Jason’s server with the response that deserves. Not to mention self-publishing, by and large, makes most authors less than nothing.

Most people don’t seem to realize that the vast majority of writers work *on spec* for ridiculously little payoff. Every dime in royalties and author earns counts (hey, do you know how much The Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest and most prestigious newspaper paid me for some freelance work? 37 cents a word, and I made $200 for five days’ work). Writers create something incredibly valuable and the publishers aren’t the only ones who refuse to pay up… more later.

ShmuelOct 22, 2005 at 11:58AM

Jacob et al.

I would highly recommend this article: Books of Revelation by Eric Schmidt originally published in the Wall Street Journal and republished on the Google Blog. In it Mr. Schmidt explains many of the details about how and when money is made off of books published via Google Print as well as why Google believes what they are doing to be legal.

…even though they are planning to make money off of it through either referrals via Google Print or contexual ads based on the copyrighted material.

To quote from the article:

“We refer people who discover books through Google Print to online retailers, but we don’t make a penny on referrals. We also don’t place ads on Google Print pages for books from our Library Project, and we do so for books in our Publishing Program only with the permission of publishers, who receive the majority of the resulting revenue.”

Also, regarding the opt-in / opt-out discussion it seems Google is trying to offer a balanced response to this. Again to quote from the article:

“For many books, [the] results will, like an ordinary card catalog, contain basic bibliographic information and, at most, a few lines of text where your search terms appear. We show more than this basic information only if a book is in the public domain, or if the copyright owner has explicitly allowed it by adding this title to the Publisher Program”

Durf said above, “It seems to be working for Jesus” is an inane comment unless she’s going to be happy making as much money as Jesus does for that book he shows up in.

First of all have you seen the sales figures at Zondervan & Tyndale? These companies don’t keep flooding the markets with hundreds of variations on the bible out of good will. In fact these companies continue to sell product even though (because?) they have allowed full-text, searchable versions of their properties to be made available online.

And finally it’s interesting to note that Mr. Schmidt also makes the argument that web indexing and print indexing are not all that different. He however takes the argument a step further by bringing another media into the discussion: video. One last quote:

“Even those critics who understand that copyright law is not absolute argue that making a full copy of a given work, even just to index it, can never constitute fair use. If this were so, you wouldn’t be able to record a TV show to watch it later or use a search engine that indexes billions of Web pages.”

Name*Oct 22, 2005 at 2:10PM

On altruism: Google will make money off this, at least enough to offset the production. It may not be tangible, it may not be able to nail down to a single figure. But corporations (read ‘The Corporation’ for a fascinating account), are duty bound to make money. If you agree with Google’s action, believe it is out of altruism or pure philanthropy, but are a shareholder you have contradictory views. They are duty bound to perform actions that make money, tangibly or otherwise.
On indexing: Much lies in the definition of ‘copy’ in ‘copyright’, be it a verb or noun. From what I’ve seen, Google’s web indexing is indexing (though the google cache obscures this) whereas print indexing is on shakier ground. The new claim, that google will give a copy of printworks back to the Library, is on a major fault line.

Lemi4 aka. fERDI:)Oct 23, 2005 at 5:47AM

If one does decide to follow Cory Doctorow’s path of releasing the book online, be sure that its licensed properly so that it doesn’t get copyrighted by some random schmuck under the assumption that the book is in the public domain. The best option right now seeming to be a creative commons license.

JackOct 24, 2005 at 3:07PM

As a half-off-topic tangent — books from libraries aren’t available for free. They’re paid for by your taxes, tuition, or user fees, and libraries pay more for books than bookstores do.

Furthermore, countries like Canada, the UK, Finland, Australia, etc, have something called Public Lending Right, a system by which authors whose books are represented in the collections of ‘sample’ libraries are paid an annual fee. In the case of older books, authors’ payments sometimes outstrip their annual royalties from publishers by an embarassing factor. In Canada, it’s an opt-in thing … you have to sign up for it, and many authors aren’t aware of it. The money for the program is put up by the federal government.

This doesn’t exist in the USA yet, so far as I know. But, likewise, if you use an in-library photocopier to make a copy of a library book, you’re probably paying a licencing fee — which, again, will only be distributed to those creators who have opted in.

I don’t blame publishers or the Author’s Guild for wanting to assert control over how copies of works that they own will be used for corporate gain. Even if Google won’t make direct ad revenue from the Print or Library projects, it’s still a heck of a marketing tool for them.

I also don’t blame book publishers for being reluctant to jump into this one in the case of older titles where the ownership of electronic rights isn’t clear. Don’t forget, newspaper and magazine publishers have recently endured rounds of righteous lawsuits from their writers for making their works available online and in cd-rom form, in both open and closed databases.

Whether or not online excerpts, indexing, and searching drive book sales (I’ve seen plenty of hard evidence that they do, typically in a modest way) is an issue that is separate from the Google Library lawsuits.

So is Meghann’s problem with Viacom/Simon & Schuster not allowing her book to be indexed. She probably holds the online rights jointly with the publisher and as such is entitled, morally if not legally, to some sort of more detailed explanation, even if she has (likely) given her publisher exclusive agency.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 3:08PM

so that it doesn’t get copyrighted by some random schmuck under the assumption that the book is in the public domain

That can’t techinically happen under US law, as I understand it. Once you write it down, you already hold the copyright. Defending that copyright is another story, but somebody else can’t just copyright it out from under you.

Allie RogersOct 25, 2005 at 11:25AM

I am no fan of the publishing industry, but I think an important point is being missed. Unlike libraries, Google is actually generating revenue off the book indexes, through advertising. While the idea of a Google index of books is outstanding, why should Google, and only Google, make money from it? Why doesn’t Google kick-back some of that ad revenue to the publisher or author?

If Google were offering an ad-free, non-revenue-generating service, then I’d agree, they’d be a library. But they aren’t.

DejahOct 27, 2005 at 7:05PM

An above commenter makes a point about Google Print vs Google Library, but misses a very important fact. Libraries have certain expanded rights to copy for the purpose of indexing and preservation. So creating a whole new copy ONLY for the purpose of indexing, even if it copies the whole book may indeed be fair use.


It’s being done by a library. The crux of this is going to fall into the crack between “Is this primarily Google?” or “Is this primarily libraries?” Is Google working for the libraries, or are the libraries working for Google, or are they equal partners. And if so, does the exception for libraries apply?

kNov 04, 2005 at 2:49PM

i agree with you.it makes more sense ,since its free marketing .but what suprises me is that these people are spending millions on digitizing. i was under the impression that publishers or writers already have a copy of the book on their computer. it will be great if someone could actually clear this up and even tell me all steps acually taken to publish a book because i might have a way which will be win win for everyone.

orangemikeNov 08, 2005 at 11:35AM

I’ve had my articles sold without my permission by other “services” and I’m sure a lot of the rest of the actual authors here have, too. Part of the revenue stream for a writer of non-fiction or short fiction is the possibility of the sale of reprint rights. Now if I write a piece which is included in some book Google slurps out, and the publisher doesn’t catch on, what are the odds that anyone will bother to offer to buy rights to reprint my piece, when it’s available with a simple google?

Dammit, writers create the content! Don’t treat us or the publishers (our agents in this) as greedheads because we want to protect our rights. “Opt-out” is always the wrong approach to take. If Google really believes in “Don’t Be Evil” then they can start by stopping their thefts. Then Meghann can opt-in, as she would like. But don’t surrender to Google’s grab for our works, or berate me because I support resistance to that grab. If the publishers and writers weren’t suing Google, the battle would be lost already.

kate k.Nov 16, 2005 at 6:24PM


What exactly is the “huge” difference between “artists” and “crafts[men]” (I’m assuming we can include craftswomen here, as well)?

I’m just curious.

(Back when I was in “art school,” sometimes the difference was between people who tried to rinse oil paints out of their brushes with water, and those who used thinner & turpentine.)

sdfNov 16, 2005 at 8:15PM

i’m pretty sure there were no xerox machines two thousand years ago.

the jesus argument thusly is ludicrous.


This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

We Work Remotely