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April 19th, 2009:

The Google Books Settlement

My miscellaneous low-priority do-it list has gotten mighty long since January, and every so often I set aside some time to knock off a few items. This morning something interesting bubbled up to the top of the stack: Claim my books under the Google Books Settlement. I’ve known about this for quite some time and haven’t had the mental bandwidth to look into it deeply, but having been roused by rowdy dogs this morning a little earlier than I’d like, I sat down here and read the material.

I’m not quite sure what to think. Google is helping to create a registry of old books that are still in copyright but no longer in print. This is a very good thing, and I signed up to support that effort if nothing else. What Google intends to do is create a legal framework for making those old books available as paid ebooks, and give authors (and where publishers still have rights, publishers) a portion of the take. Google has already scanned a great many books, including a few of my own, and if I can pick up a few quarters by buying in to the system, I will. (Alas, I doubt my 1987 work Turbo Pascal Solutions is going to be a hot seller.)

Mostly, I want the problem of orphan books to be finessed, and I want it finessed without Big Media’s copyright lobby shaping it so that it routes all the money to them and leaves the rest of us penniless in the dust. People gripe about Google’s interest in the whole thing–they could make an enormous amount of money here if this thing catches on, and in essence become the planet’s largest publisher–but the idea is sound and Google may be the best that we can do.

If anyone has any interest in this, go to the Google Books Settlement Site and read the sizeable FAQ. I especially encourage any of my author friends who have published books to decide what they think about the whole thing, and either sign in or opt out. Signing up can be done until January 5, 2010, but opting out must be done by May 5, 2009. I’m guessing that popular authors and their heirs will opt out, figuring they may be able to get a better deal somewhere, and the great starving writer masses (who know that there are no deals on their horizon) will sign on. And that’s actually a good thing: The great starving writer masses deserve a way to get whatever scraps may fall from the ebooks publishing table, as the publishing industry generally becomes more and more of a “winner takes all” kind of business.

The framework has not yet been completely created, but it’ll happen over time, and it will be very interesting to see if anything comes of it long-term. I’m watching the whole business closely and will report here from time to time, especially once I finish the Book That Ate 2009.