Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Take that, cultural imperialists!

I’m relieved to see that Google has been forced to see sense on its Google Books digitisation project and concede to a fairer settlement with rights holders. Google promoted its plan to digitise the world’s books and make them freely available online as a magnanimous gesture to education the world over. Unfortunately, the original out-of-court Google Books Settlement disregarded the claims of non-US rights-holders, and had authors and publishers in New Zealand (and a lot of other countries) crying ‘cultural imperialism!’

The attitude that ‘if it’s not currently sold in the US it’s free for the taking’ really got Kiwi writers’ hackles up. (Though it was the pressure put on by the EU and its individual members - France and Germany made formal complaints - that probably made Google back down.)

As the NZ Press Association explained the original deal back in August -

“If a book is not generally available for sale in the US, even though it is widely available elsewhere, it is considered out of print and Google can display excerpts without consent…. It has digitised books by Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, Sir Edmund Hillary, Witi Ihimaera, Michael King, James K Baxter and Keri Hulme, all without any permission from anyone.”

These are best-selling, iconic New Zealand authors, whose books are all currently in print and widely available in this country. Just because mainstream US booksellers have not seen any value in stocking them does not make them ‘out of print’ and therefore freely available for Google to do with them what it likes.

Further, while authors and publishers could opt out, asking that their books not be included as part of the digitisation project, “Google was under no obligation to agree to that request. The rights-holder then had the right to take their chances and sue the multi-billion dollar company.”

Yeah, good luck with that, tiny NZ publishing house. New Zealand authors would fare even less well. The local market is so small that even best-selling authors sometimes need to do the odd bit of corporate huckstering to pay the mortgage. There are still some significant problems with the revised settlement (here’s a good analysis), but at least Google has been stopped in its book-plundering tracks and forced to recognise that the world of publishing does not begin and end at the US border.


Digger said...

Abashedly, I was not following all the details of Google's World Domination via Books. I'm pretty appalled at "The World Ends At the US Border Even If You Say No It Doesn't." Glad they had to amend their world-view just a tad... Thanks for posting this!

Bavardess said...

I'm glad to have performed this important public service. :)