Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ursula K. Le Guin on the Google book settlement

Ursula K. Le Guin recently resigned from the Authors Guild over the Google book settlement -- she says of the Guild, "you have sold us down the river." Her complete letter appears below:

18 December 2009

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

Yours truly,

Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

If I Ran the Google

(with apologies to Dr Seuss)

It's a pretty cool place, said young Kenny McDougal1,
This place that they've given the wacky name Google.

They search and they scan, pulling info together,
You find what you wanted, no matter the weather.

They copied some books, then they copied some more,
But permission is first what they should have asked for.

They didn't, you know, ask permission from writers,
Who made so much noise that they sounded like fighters.

Then lawsuits went flying, from publishers too,
Shocked, Shocked were the Googlers, "oh what did we do?"

First, Settlement One2, it raised quite a ruckus,
Alarming the judge and Department of Justice.

Then, Settlement Two3, even longer, appeared,
But it didn't do much, as we certainly feared.

Can Settlement Three4 be much further behind?
We'll see what the Copyright Register finds.

If McDougal ran Google, now what would he do?
Well first he'd admit that we made a boo-boo.

Not asking permission, now that wasn't right.
Lest doing real evil5 be the Googler's plight.

A selfish monopoly isn't for me,
We need competition, which we can all see.

With Google Books fixed, I could say, "This is groovy,"
Then move on the way to start scanning a movie?

The studios would squawk, as all Googlers should know,
This time ask permission ere you enter the show.

But lots of films out there are orphans you know,
Abandoned by owners whom nobody knows.

They're sitting in archives, these stories on reels,
Preserved for the future, but making no deals.

Jon Stewart made fun, on his show, of the archives6,
Dissing good folks making sure film survives.

Then work with the Congress to pass legislation,
To make films like these, maybe, wards of the nation.

The Google McDougal would thus make amends,
By being more open and acting like friends.

1 The Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran the Circus" features young Morris McGurk who starts the Circus McGurkus, and "If I Ran the Zoo" features young Gerald McGrew who starts the McGrew Zoo. So I needed a last name to rhyme with Google and a first name...a variation on mine

2 The initial Settlement was tabled by the judge, after complaints from many parties including the Department of Justice, the Register of Copyrights, and yours truly.

3 The Amended Settlement, which made its midnight appearance this past Friday the 13th, made some adjustments; but still leaves Google with an insurmountable monopoly in orphan books.

4 Don't be surprised to see a Revised Amended Settlement in the future.

5 Google's motto (as you probably know) is "Don't be evil."

6 On the November 11, 2009 edition of "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart did an extended riff belittling professional archivists. If he hopes for any sort of legacy, he’d best be sure some professionals are taking care of his footage.

[first published in slightly different form at digiday:DAILY]