Over at the Boing Boing blog, the writers complain about the new online book search rights that Google just won in a class action suit settlement. It’s a little tricky to parse out what this means, but it looks like if you have a book in print now, or ever did, Google can include its contents in a search result. This sentence kind of sums it up: “Google is the only company in the world that will have a clean, legal way of offering all these books in search results.”
Google, in acceding to the Authors Guild’s requests, have attained a legal near-monopoly on searching and distributing the majority of books ever published.
The Authors Guild — which represents a measly 8000 writers — brought a class action against Google on behalf of all literary copyright holders, even the authors of the millions of “orphan works” whose rightsholders can’t be located. Once that class was certified, whatever deal Google struck with the class became binding on every work of literature ever produced. The odds are that this feat won’t ever be repeated, which means that Google is the only company in the world that will have a clean, legal way of offering all these books in search results.
We all love Google, don’t we? From the “search the Web by speaking” iPhone application to the wonderful shopping vistas, Google runs the online universe. But if I had a book out, and I wasn’t one of the select 8,000 Authors Guild members, I’d be scrambling now to find out if my book’s online rights were still mine to control. As the article says, challenging this settlement in court is going to be costly.
Not something to worry yourself about if you’re still doing the writing and editing. This doesn’t affect the practice of your writing art. It might reduce your ability to earn a living off a book, though. That thunder you hear in the air is the sound of Google’s scanners warming up, ready to hoover up the pages of your book for a free search result on the Internet. Yeah, Amazon is big. But Google is bigger, smarter and hungrier.