Saturday, December 6, 2008

SFWA update on proposed Google Books/Author’s Guild settlement

CHESTERTOWN, Md. -- The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) – represented by President Russell Davis and Past President Michael Capobianco (also the SFWA representative to the Author’s Coalition) – participated in a conference call Dec. 6 led by Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author’s Guild, along with a number of other writers organizations.

The purpose of this call was to review some of the specific highlights from the recently proposed settlement and to answer some of the initial questions many writers have about the specifics.

"As part of our continuing efforts to keep interested members of our organization and the general public informed, I wanted to share some of the key points covered in the call," said Davis.

First and foremost, this settlement does not cover anything published after Jan. 9, 2009. While the intention of the settlement is to establish procedures, along with the Book Rights Registry, which could be applied to future works, there is no clear guarantee that Google or any of the other parties to the settlement will abide by its terms for works published after that date. What the settlement appears to do is authorize Google Books to continue to digitize and add works to their database after that date (Article III) on a non-exclusive basis from any and all sources.

Second, a point of clarification. The settlement specifies that works that are deemed in print are not automatically included in the settlement, and rights owners for those works must opt-in. Works that are deemed out of print are automatically included, and rights owners for those works must opt-out. The procedures for determining if a given work is deemed in print or out of print appear to be fairly complex and based on information from a variety of sources, including market availability.

Third, the Book Rights Registry that would be established by the proposed settlement and be in place to administer its terms, is intended to be run by a board composed of 50 percent author representatives and 50 percent publisher representatives. It will be established as a non-profit company under New York, not federal, law.

Finally, the settlement proposes a variety of licenses and income splits, depending upon the specific user of the work in question, such as a university, an individual consumer or a library. Fees are varied, and would be sent – depending on the specific work and rights – to authors and publishers directly. Excerpts, poetry, and similar types of work would be treated as inserts under the settlement and rights holders would be paid a small flat fee for the use.

Obviously, this statement does not provide the level of detail available in the original settlement documents. Additional information can be accessed at As previously noted, we advise any affected authors to consult with their own counsel in this matter and to review the terms of the proposed settlement with care. The settlement has not yet been approved by the judge in this case, and may be accepted, altered or rejected by the court.

At this time, SFWA’s initial and primary concern remains: this settlement reverses the long, legal standard of requiring that rights to written work be obtained prior to their publication in any form, and forces authors to opt-out if they wish to protect their rights.

SFWA will continue to monitor the progress of the settlement and consult with our counsel as to the ramifications for our members and the writing community in general.

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

1 comment:

Frances Grimble said...

Another thing is, according to the Settlement, on January 5, 2009 Google was supposed to have a list of works already scanned or likely to be scanned before May 5, 2009--the Settlement permits Google to continue scanning copyrighted works till then. I opted out of the Settlement by both using the on-line form and by sending a letter to the Settlement Administrator by certified mail. However, Google will not reveal the list of works scanned _unless you accept the Settlement and submit a claim_. They say this is for fear of false claims. I have asked twice, once asking for access to the list, once just sending a list of my books and asking if any had been scanned. In other words, so far I cannot find out if my books were illegally scanned, but I feel I have as much right to know as if I'd accepted the Settlement. As far as I can tell, the Settlement makes no promises that Google and/or the libraries will not go ahead and use the works of those who opted out of the Settlement--they just won't pay the copyright owners.