Thursday, April 30, 2009

Updates on Google/AAP Settlement

There have been some developments (and some non-developments) in the saga of the settlement between Google and the Author's Guild/Association of American Publishers.

First, the Internet Archive requested to intervene in the suit, saying that it, too, was digitizing books and therefore should be given the same status as Google. Judge Denny Chin, the judge deciding whether the settlement will be granted, denied the Archive's request with no additional information as to his reasoning.

Next, a group of authors and author representatives asked for an extension on the comment/intervention period, saying that they needed more time to study the agreement and how it affects their rights. Judge Chin granted a four-month extension, which now delays the opt-out period until September of 2009. This, of course, means four more months in which Google and the AAP are in limbo waiting to hear if the settlement will pass the court's test. Meanwhile, Google is going forward as if the settlement will be granted, re-negotiating contracts with the participating libraries and digitizing the files at the Copyright Office. (This latter I know from comments by Robert Kasunic of the Copyright Office at a meeting in Berkeley on the settlement.)

There is no question that it is very difficult to understand the implications of this suit. I myself thought about various books and articles that I have written that have been published and could not determine if I would be a member of the class of rights holders that the AAP and the Author's Guild claim to represent. Items of mine originally published on the Net have been reproduced in books and journals, and some items have been translated and republished. While a living popular author may have kept some control over his or her work, there are many millions more of us who have had some truck with the published word but in less clear circumstances. Anyone without an intellectual property lawyer on retainer will be hard-pressed to make a determination of their status.

The third development, and the most important, is that thanks to the efforts of some hard-working people (including the Internet Archive and Consumer Watchdog), the Justice Department has decided to take a look at antitrust implications of the settlement agreement. It's been widely noted that the agreement gives Google a monopoly over the vast number of books that are orphaned. It has also been noted that the settlement contains a "most favored nation" clause -- that is, that it contains wording that would require that Google always be afforded the most favorable terms that anyone else receives. This is another way of preventing competition, thus, the anti-trust question.

Numerous amicus briefs, originally intended to meet the May 5 deadline before the extension, are appearing. A good place to follow this is on James Grimmelmann's blog, Laboratorium.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

E-books rise

The IDPF and AAP keep some statistics on ebook sales. Their latest press release says:
Trade eBook sales were $8,800,000 for January, a very significant 173.6% increase over January 2008. Just a reminder these are wholesale revenues reported from 13 participating Trade Publishers.
E-book sales are still a very small portion of overall book sales, but while sales of hard copies are falling, e-books are rising. The Kindle may have had some influence here.

On a slightly different Kindle note, I received an email from "Monica GoldenbergOn behalf of the National Federation of the Blind":
I wanted to let you know that tomorrow, on April 7th in New York City, the Reading Rights Coalition, representing millions of disabled people who cannot read print, will protest the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 which promised for the first time easy, mainstream access to over 255,000 books. Hundreds of disabled Americans (the blind and people with dyslexia, learning difficulties, spinal cord injuries, seniors losing vision, stroke survivors) will assemble to demand that the Authors Guild reverse its decision.
(Protest covered by CNET.)

Organizations serving and representing people with text disabilities have been very active in the development of e-book standards and technologies because the e-book promises to greatly increase the access that people with disabilities have to print resources. As e-books and e-book readers become mainstream, more books and cheaper devices become available to everyone, including disabled readers, who are otherwise a niche market with no profit possibilities for companies serving them.

The Author's Guild is missing the point here, restricting access rather than allowing e-books a larger audience. And that audience isn't only the legally blind -- it is all of us who are aging, who have tired eyes, who commute by car, or who just want to take a walk and read the newspaper at the same time. The ability to turn on text-to-speech, with its monotone voice and odd pronunciation, is not the main reason to purchase e-books, but it has its moments for all of us, and is essential for many.