Google Schmoogle

I was on the panel at a very interesting event last night, organised by Irish PEN, where I shared the stage with Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times), Clodagh Feehan (Mercier Press) and Samantha Holman (ICLA). PEN is an author body and whole bunch of authors joined us to discuss the Google Book Settlement. This private settlement, agreed behind closed doors between Google and the AAP (Association of American Publishers) is amazingly far-reaching. Details of the settlement only became available in early January this year, and the last chance to opt-out is in three week’s time! I’ve been reading all the material on it that I could find and was still clear as mud about large portions of it — thanks largely to Samantha, I now (finally!) have a reasonable understanding of the settlement.

In short, my personal views: if you own any copyright in anything, you need to engage with the settlement. If you don’t think you have the muscle to take Google to court (and who does?) then you have no realistic option but to opt in, which does give you a degree of control over how your copyrights can be exploited.

There will be a lot of talk about this at next week’s London International Book Fair, the first time that the publishing industry has gathered since the settlement. Hopefully we will then know enough that we can contact authors, children’s illustrators etc and help them understand it, as well as starting the enormous logistical process of laying claim to all our copyrights on their database.

As the first time that the publishing world has had to make an actual decision on something digital it is scary to see how little engagement the industry has had with the topic, and highly unfortunate that a fait accompli has been foisted on us which has absolutely enormous holes in it. While the only certain thing in life is change, and Google’s current dominence is subject to the universal “this too will pass” rule, for now the whole publishing world is being coerced into rewriting the rules of copyright and signing over huge swathes of intellectual property to a company whose response to people who don’t like what they are doing is “so sue us”.

Brave New World!