Authors lobby U.S. court to reject Google deal



Authors lobby U.S. court to reject Google deal

More than 250 Canadian writers sign petition protesting illegal digitization of books

John Barber

Information giant Google is doing evil to their property, a growing number of Canadian writers claim in a petition urging a New York court to reject a controversial deal giving the company free rein to digitize the world’s books.
Acting independently of the Writers’ Union of Canada, more than 250 writers from across the country have so far signed the petition, which includes a call for the federal government to speak on behalf of Canadians potentially bound unwillingly by the terms of a legal settlement achieved in a U.S. court.
Authors Wayson Choy, Heather Robertson, Ann Ireland, Susan Crean, Keith Maillard, Silver Donald Cameron, Ron Smith, Graeme Gibson, Anne Cameron and Marilyn Bowering are among those who joined the call to reject what the petition describes as “an assault on international copyright law” staged for the benefit of a “predatory corporation.”
The Canadians are the latest in a growing number of non-U.S. groups, individuals and national governments to demand exemption from the all-embracing deal, which would allow Google to distribute digital books according to terms negotiated with New York publishers and the U.S. Authors’ Guild.
“The governments of France and Germany protested that illegal digitization of books amounted to theft of a cultural heritage,” the petition states. “We agree, and believe that Canada’s heritage of cultural nationalism should be applied to the Google settlement. All of continental Europe is now exempt, and so should Canada be.”
The group is hoping the petition will become the basis of an official intervention in the upcoming hearing, which is scheduled to take place in New York on Feb. 18. Although Google satisfied some objectors this fall by offering improvements to the original proposed settlement, many others remain adamantly opposed and have filed briefs with the court.
They include the U.S. National Writers Union, which is leading opposition to the settlement, and such acclaimed authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, who resigned from the Authors Guild last week, claiming its consent to the deal “sold us down the river.”
Petition organizer and playwright David Bolt, literary executor of late playwright Carol Bolt, said the Canadian writers decided to speak out in part because the Writers’ Union of Canada declined to take an official position on the settlement.
“They tried to work it from the inside,” he said, adding that the WUC achieved some success in achieving better terms for Canadian writers in the revised settlement. “But we thought we should go further and try to get the settlement rejected altogether.”
WUC chair Erna Paris, author of The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America, said the group has maintained its objections to two aspects of the settlement without taking a position on whether or not it should be rejected by the court.
One issue concerns the fate of so-called “orphan works” with no known rights holders, according to Paris. Another is permission the deal gives for libraries to gain access to digital books for free, something they are currently required to pay for in Canada.
“That really sticks in our craw because we think it could have copyright implications in Canada,” Paris said.
On the other hand, she added, writers who opt out of the settlement will forego revenue from digital sales and potentially lose control of their work. “If anybody who opts out wants to complain or sue, they’re going to have to do it independently,” she said, “and that will be almost impossible.”
The court-imposed deadline for writers to decide whether or not to join the settlement is Jan. 28.

From: Sarah Sheard, Mona Fertig, Patricia Robertson, Kim Goldberg, Katherine Gordon

Subject: Canadian Writers Against the Google Book Settlement

Dear fellow authors and copyright holders,

Many of you are already familiar with the Google Book Settlement, and its dangers for Canadian copyrights. For those of you who are not, we suggest you skim through a highly readable statement by the U.S. National Writers Union, which flatly opposes it.

We are a group of concerned Canadian authors who would like to protest this settlement in as effective a way as possible. Accordingly, we have written a protest letter, which we hope will gather names, including yours.  Then we intend to release the letter to the media, to politicians, and anywhere else that might conceivably have an effect.

A court in New York City will soon be deciding whether to approve or reject this settlement.  We hope the judge rejects it. For those of you who have considered opting out, the deadline is January 28.  This is also the deadline for any submissions to the court.

We have very little time left to influence the debate.  If you would like to respond, please do so as quickly as you are able.

To add your name to this petition, please email (Your email will NOT appear on the petition.)


The following Canadian authors and copyright holders wish to protest the Google Book Settlement.  Even in its revised form, it is an assault on international copyright law and has distorted class action law for the benefit of a predatory corporation.

New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and India – all countries with English-language presses similar to Canada’s — have been exempted from the settlement because they protested vigorously against it..  We wish to protest just as loudly.  The Governments of France and Germany protested that illegal digitization of books amounted to theft of a cultural heritage.  We agree, and believe that Canada’s heritage of Cultural nationalism should be applied to the Google settlement.  All of Europe is now exempt, and so should Canada be.

We believe that Canadian Copyrights should be subject to Canadian courts, as well as to the Berne Convention.  We believe that Canadians should not lose control over their works because they fail to sign up in a registry in another country; and, further, that the opt-out (rather than the time-honoured opt-in) clause serves to co-opt many copyright holders who do not have the the time or inclination to study this complicated settlement.   Also, the deadline for opting out insults common sense and benefits only Google.

The director of the US Copyright Office has said “no factors have been demonstrated that would justify creating a system akin to a compulsory license for Google – and only Google – to digitize books for an indefinite period of time.”  She has called it “an end-run around copyright law”.  We agree.

The US Department of Justice sees no reason why Google should not negotiate with authors and publishers individually, just like anyone else who wants to purchase copyright licences.  We agree.

The Google Settlement was negotiated by the Authors Guild of the U.S.  But other U.S. groups — the National Writers Union, the American Society of  Journalists and Authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers — are all unequivocally opposed to it.  We do not accept that the Authors Guild speaks for us and join the above organizations in demanding that the settlement be rejected.

If  the settlement is not rejected, we see no reason to trust in the future.  The Google Corporation has behaved in an illegal and predatory fashion in the past and will likely go on behaving in this way.

We join with the writers’ and publishers’ groups, as well as with the foreign law courts and governments, who reject the settlement in its entirety.

Mona Fertig
Katherine Gordon
Kim Goldberg
Patricia Robertson
Sarah Sheard
David Bolt, own works and estate of Carol Bolt
Susan Crean
Marilyn Bowering
Linda Griffiths
Tedde Moore, own works and estate of Mavor Moore
Michael Elcock
Monika S. Ullmann
Deanna Kawatski
Susan McCaslin
David S. Young
Andris Taskans
Anne Cameron
Trysh Ashby-Rolls
Star Weiss
Kathy Page
Paulo Da Costa
Trevor Carolan
Daniel Wood
Alan Twigg
Evelyn Sommers
Dave Margoshes

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