Writers: Another Google Book Settlement deadline is fast approaching. Per the amended Settlement agreement, January 28, 2010 is the last date you can opt out of the Settlement, or opt back in if you previously opted out and have since changed your mind.
(Note: The Settlement covers only US copyright holders published on or before January 5, 2009, and only books or inserts published in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.)
Here’s the deal:
- If you want to opt out of the amended Settlement, you can fill out this online form. Opting out means you will not be included in the Settlement and will receive none of its benefits (including cash payment for any books or inserts of yours that Google may have digitized without permission), but will retain your right to sue Google for copyright infringement and other claims related to the Settlement. Google is currently “voluntarily” promising to remove the works of opt-outers from its database, though there’s nothing in the Settlement language to hold it to that.
- If you opted out before the Settlement was amended, and have changed your mind, you can now opt back in. Again, there’s an online form you can fill out. Opting back in means your books and inserts will be included in the Settlement, that you’ll receive a small cash payment for books and inserts that Google digitized without permission, and that you’ll receive a portion of the revenue Google realizes from the commercial uses it makes of your work. You’ll also be able to control how and whether your books and inserts are displayed, and how Google will be able to offer them for sale (with some limitations). However, you give up your right to sue Google for any claims related to the Settlement.
As an alternative to the online claim forms, you can contact the Settlement Administrator directly:
c/o Rust Consulting, Inc.
PO Box 9364
Minneapolis, MN 55440-9364
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
- What if you do nothing? If you’ve already opted out or in, and are happy with your decision, there’s nothing you need to do. If you haven’t yet done anything, and take no action by January 28, you will automatically be part of the Settlement. US copyright holders are automatically opted in to the Settlement, even if they do nothing (a major objection among Settlement opponents, since this reverses a long-standing principle of copyright law).
- Whatever decision you make, regard it as permanent. It’s possible that, at the Fairness Hearing on February 18, the Settlement will be amended again, or even thrown out (though I think that’s unlikely). If so, you may have to decide to opt in or out again. However, if the Settlement is approved, you will not get the chance to change your mind. Be prepared, therefore, to live with the decision you make now.
- What next? If you opt out, you’re done. If you opt in, however, you must establish how and whether Google will be able to display and sell your books and inserts. To do this, you must “claim” your works. Once again, there’s an online form, but there’s also the option of a simplified method, which involves emailing your bibliography to the Settlement administrator.
Opt-inners can claim their works at any time. However, if you want to direct Google to remove or exclude your works from its database, you must claim your works on or before April 5, 2011. (For why you might want to do this, see the next-to-last paragraph.) If you ask Google to remove or exclude your works, you may be able to change your mind later–but there are no guarantees. And if you want to receive a cash payment for works that Google digitized without permission, you must claim your works on or before March 31, 2011.
For writers who support the Settlement, it’s a simple matter of opting in and claiming your writings. For writers who oppose it and don’t want Google to display or sell their writings, things are more complicated. Is it better to opt in, giving up your right to sue but asserting control over your works? Or is it better to opt out and preserve your right to sue, with no guarantee that Google won’t someday decide to change its “voluntary” policy of removing opt-outers’ works from its database? If you’re a pragmatist, the former may make most sense, since it assures you of control (at least, as much as is possible in a hugely open-ended Settlement whose long-term implications are not even remotely clear). For those who stand on principle, however–whatever that principle may be–opting out, even with the uncertainties involved, may be the best choice.
I opted out of the original Settlement, and I will remain opted out of the amended Settlement. Although the amendments do improve the Settlement’s terms, and although I am sympathetic to the idea of a digital world library, for me the principle of copyright trumps all other considerations. By assuming permission, rather than seeking it, Google is turning copyright law on its head, and setting dangerous precedents for the future. I don’t deny that copyright law could use some changes–but this should be accomplished through legislation, not as the default result of a lawsuit.
Links for further reading:
- The Laboratorium is the blog of law professor James Grimmelman. He is an informed, relatively neutral observer of the Settlement, and (in my opinion) has provided some of the most intelligent and reasoned commentary on it. His article, “How to Fix the Google Book Search Settlement,” precedes the amendments, but provides a good overview of the history and issues. “The Google Settlement: Why It Matters,” written post-amendment, discusses why the changes don’t render the Settlement less problematic.
- The Public Index provides general information and links to many documents.
- Transcript of a SFWA panel discussion on the Settlement.