Friday, September 11, 2009

The Google Book Settlement: An Author's Point of View

I read in the New York Times this morning that the top copyright official in the U.S. has attacked the Google Book settlement with authors and publishers.  She claimed the agreement would allow Google to profit from the work of others without prior consent, and could put "diplomatic stress" on the United States because it affected foreign authors whose rights are protected by international treaties.
Regarding her first point, as an academic author myself, I have read the terms of the Google Book Partner program and wonder where the U.S. copyright official is getting her information.  Authors and publishers have the choice of whether to submit their works for digital publication by Google and should they make that choice, they have nearly complete control over how the material is displayed and distributed through the Google program.  Furthermore, they share fairly in any advertising or other revenue that may result from online display and sale of the books, something that was not the case under the old, pre-information age copyright system.
As an Academic Author, I think that Google's partnership with Creative Commons was a huge, positive factor that augurs well for the success of its books program and others who should choose to follow its example and compete in this new arena.  I have already submitted four books and two short monographs to Google for scanning and processing.  Two of them are live and you can read them, search them, or download a PDF at the following links:  --Television's Window on the World was based on an expansion of my doctoral dissertation.  I wrote it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at a time when there was great concern about the possible role of communication in national development.   Should you choose to read the Acknowledgements (p. viii), you'll note that I dedicated the book to people who live in the world's developing nations.   Now, thanks to Google, many of them will soon be able to read it, and many may first encounter it on a handset or Kindle-style reader. -- The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea was based on two years of research in Korea in the early 1990s, with the assistance of many Korean colleagues, and the content relates rather directly to some of the concerns I express in this blog.  Were I writing it again, I would revise certain portions.  Nevertheless, it represented my best effort at the time (1995).
Back to the New York Times article and the U.S. copyright officials point about foreign authors.  If she was referring to academic authors, along with others, I fail to see the point.    Two more of my books that will soon appear in Google Books were co-authored with "foreign authors," one Korean and one from Spain. As co-authors normally do, we've talked about the Google Book Partner program and amicably and jointly decided to submit our co-authored books for digitization and publication on the web.
Finally, I would simply note that the old, print-only academic publishing houses are rapidly changing with the times.   Oxford University Press, Greenwood Press, Westview Press, and John Libbey were very willing to revert copyright to me and my co-authors so that we could submit the books to the Google project. Looking ahead, they and other university and academic presses are going to have to chart a successful business approach in an era in which there is a large, rather comprehensive digital library, mostly available to the public around the world.   In large part, we have Google to thank for this welcome new development.  

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