Mass Digitization of books: What about authors?

Mass Digitization: What about authors? | Image Credit: opensourcewav

 

The Authors Guild and creative industry advocates are calling on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse a district court decision that could unleash a wave of unrestricted digital access to books under copyright.

Back in November of last year, Judge Denny Chin rejected a lawsuit from the Authors Guild against the Google Books project, leaning heavily on the benefits to the public to afford Google ‘fair use’ protection. Along with seven other organizations and support groups, the Copyright Alliance this week filed an amicus brief to explain why this decision was ill-advised and fails to properly weigh other major considerations of U.S. copyright law.

A statement from the Copyright Alliance’s Sandra Aistars summarizes the main concerns of authors, publishers, and those who support their work:

“A digital library of this nation’s books, with a strong search function, is unquestionably a desirable goal. However, that goal must not be achieved at the expense of the authors of those works.

The Copyright Act should not be expanded beyond its traditional contours to permit a private, for-profit company to create a permanent digital repository of, and display excerpts from, over 20 million books without the consent of the authors.  Mass digitization is a complex issue that is currently being considered by Congress and the Copyright Office. In its enthusiasm for the convenience of search technology, the district court effectively cut off the ongoing discussions about how best to incorporate this new technology into modern, sound copyright policy. 

Today we urge the Second Circuit to reverse that decision and ensure that mass digitization if and when implemented benefits all stakeholders – including technology companies, libraries, content creators, and members of the reading public.” 

It’s important to remember that Google is a for-profit company with significant vested interests when it comes to digital media and content distribution. While the end objective of universal access to literature is in the wider public interest, Google also stands to gain major attention and side-benefits from the endeavor. The former should not be a means to obscure the latter, nor to stifle the legitimate concerns of those who live off the proceeds of their writing. Google is to be applauded for innovating in the literary space but must be held to the same standards of copyright law as any other commercial entity that would seek to replicate the works of others in its own vision.

The amicus briefs being filed in support of the Authors Guild position demonstrate the widespread concern around moving too quickly towards mass digitization of books. Once the flood has been unleashed there will be no going back when the unintended, negative impacts on copyright holders and their works begin to hit.

Despite the inevitable lure of technology and the outstanding role it continues to play in making the written word accessible to all, there is no shame in taking time out to consider the different ways that this can be achieved. In fact it is the only fair course of action, given that the livelihoods of writers and the creative teams that support them are on the line.

 

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