Friday, September 23, 2005

When The Pen Picks Up The Sword

Guilds rarely work well with freedom. Concentrated power leads to pride and with it a desire to undertake zero-sum games. I recently learned of the growing legal battle between the Authors Guild and Google Print. Here's the e-mail I sent to the Guild:

Dear Authors Guild,

I was very surprised to read your press release concerning your recent legal action against Google Print. Your claims are misleading and inaccurate. For example, you say "Google is reproducing works still under the protection of copyright [which is] a plain and brazen violation of copyright law." That's not true. Reproduction of copyrighted material is perfectly legal under many circumstances, including excerpts. This exactly how the company publishes such material barring expressed permission from the author. You should be happy Google is making it easier for people to access the written word; real writers want their works read. Instead, you are betraying the craft by attempting to extinguish the free flow of information.

As an aspiring author and an avid reader myself, I want to let you know that I will never join your organization because of this disgraceful stunt. Whenever I consider purchasing a book, I will reference your site and firmly boycott any publication devised by one of your members. I will pass on this advice to my fellow Ph.D. students and I am certain many will follow my lead.

Your actions make me ashamed to be a writer.

David Youngberg

I, of course, sent it using my gmail account.


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Anonymous said...

Your letter make me ashamed to be a lawyer.

Erik said...

Always nice to read commends of anonymous cowardice lawyers. I do agree with this text as I think it's a great thing that books (excerpts for God's sake!) get online so I can find books I need for study much easier without visiting many libraries or bookstores without any results! Google Print makes it possible to determine where to find good titles for study or research, and indeed enables authors to get more "visibility" and thus sell more. Anyone against this doesn't get the basic economics and any author who is afraid that people wont buy his books when only the content page is published (which is mostly the case) is very insecure about his own writing skills!

Fabrice Lyczba said...

Lunacy, indeed. Misleading, too. Google Library is a bookstore, not a library right now. I've got some more comments at . Would love to know what you think of my take on this.

T. Aiba said...

As a soon to be published author, my ears perked when I heard that google was being sued for something relating to written works. Not being one to judge a situation harshly, I decided to check out the details. From the sound of things originally, it sounded like google was just copying entire works and putting them out there for free. That of course, would have been a real outrage.

Just as MP3s opened the door for music piracy, this COULD open the door for literary piracy. HOWEVER... just as MP3s also sell a heck of a lot of cds, this may also sell a lot of books for people who would otherwise never see the kind of publicity they can get here... for free.

That being said, I'm about to have a project I've worked on for years (and will be working on for many more years with the sequals) published via a POD publisher. This means that no matter how good my work is, unless I shell out a lot of cash, the chances of my getting read are very, very slim. The owner of the company I'm going with admits the very nature of his (POD) industry means that most of what is put out there is pure crap. Which means bookstores will not "waste shelf space" on it. Which also means nobody will ever find my book happily on accident at their local bookstore. The POD industry, while I've heard complaints about the quality of the printed books, is still revolutionary. It means that I don't need "permission" to give my printed work a shot. If it's good, people can buy it, and no big-shot at a publishing company can stand in my way. For someone like me, then, who has a very limited income, google print may be the answer to a prayer. What can MAYBE be done by my having a website and paying a lot of money for both it and advertisments for it, CAN be accomplished by this project. It means that I will have a prayer at getting discovered by people who are interested in something like my work. In short, it means a miracle.

Authors, like musicians had to, need to come to grips with the fact that if someone wants to pirate your work, they will. Whether or not google is permited to do this very helpful project will be quite beside the point. As they say, where there's a will, there's a way. Musicians eventually had to realize that there are people who don't abide by the law, and those people will get their work, napster or no napster. But MP3s WERE an effective way to get heard... for people to try their music before buying their cd. Musicians can now even make money on people trying their music in MP3 format, so if the person buys the CD, they'll have made money twice on the songs the person paid for in MP3 format. Likewise, people who really, really want to pirate written work, certainly won't be stopped if google is stopped. They'll get it from somewhere else, if they want it that badly. BUT... authors who can come to terms with the fact that there are, and always will be, "bad guys" in the world, stand to make a lot of money on google's venture by allowing people to sample their work before they buy. And the more you're up against it with sales, the more of a blessing this is, priates or no pirates.

Let's face it. MP3 piracy wasn't stopped by Napster getting sued. Google getting sued won't stop piracy of written works. However like napster was responsible for an unknown massive number of cds getting sold, google CAN be good for the writing industry.

As an author, I pray these people who have an over simplified view of the whole piracy thing (eg, stop google and stop piracy... Yeah, as if...) will not succeed in crushing something that could be the "little guy's" best friend in marketing.

Anonymous said...

For this site to be anything other than subversive advertising for copyrighted materials, it needs to present easy access to full text editions of novels, poetry collections, and other materials. I have 2 words for visitors to this site: Project Gutenberg. Look it up. You'll get what you looking for, not just another scam for advertisers.

Kurt said...

I think your letter was great. Google is doing something that's great for educational and leasure purposes. What I can't understand is why anyone would be against this. Google is not the first to index books. Check out any book at and you are able to view pages from the book. The only difference with Amazon is that you can't search through every single book. We should all send our comments to the Authors and tell them of our disapproval for their actions.

PGTips said...

I thought you may find it interesting to know that Google Book Search just encouraged the sales of approximately 10 books due tot he fact that I could show my students what was inside the books. I don't see a difference between browsing/previewing books online to standing in a bookshop a bookshop and doing exactly the same thing prior to making a decision to buy.

Anonymous said...

As a genealogist, Google has made my dreams come true. I comb the Internet for the latest postings of transcriptions and abstracts of relevant records that are posted on the Internet over time but to now be able to search old books (which in many cases have no index to begin with), full-text? WOOOO-HOOOO!!!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say Thanks to Google. My son just came home from school and said that he forgot his reading book, what a great thing to find that his book is available to read online. I've used NetLibrary before, but it doesn't have this book. said... said... said...

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