Publishing, Contracts, and Google


I finally understand what the problem was with the Google Books Settlement - just as it's getting tossed out.

Really, I didn't understand what the problem was before. I knew others said it was, but I just shrugged and went about my day. But now I know - and it's important that all authors understand the problems. This is still important for authors to understand - because of the fundamental rights grab at the core of the proposed (and now toasty) settlement.

It was a line in Locus' announcement that brought the "bad" home.  Let me take a second to explain:

One of the most controversial aspects of the program was that any authors who didn’t opt-out in time automatically agreed to let Google scan their works, and to sell any out-of-print works as e-books.

So there's three terms (emphasis mine) that are key.  First is that the program required people to opt-out of it... which means they had to know about it.  Opt-in is the only legitimate alternative for anything that takes rights away from you.

Second:  Selling someone else's work.  Even the simplest publishing agreement is at least a page.  Mine are multi-page documents, because I want everyone to know exactly what's going on.  (I also include a "plain language" version with my intent - and an invitation for authors to challenge where the legalese doesn't meet the plain language.

Third:  Out-of-print doesn't mean it's yours to do with as you want.  It's still under copyright, especially in the US.  (Go complain to Disney if you dislike that;  it's their fault.) 

Mike Resnick, among others, has had the rights to his prior works revert to him, and he's chosen to digitally publish them himself.  The proposed Google settlement would have taken that choice away from him, without his knowledge, unless he objected to them. Maybe you want to have Google publish your stuff, maybe not. Taking away that choice without getting positive consent just ain't right.

I don't know why I didn't get that before now - I just knew that there were problems with the settlement.  After cluing in, I'm glad that organizations like SFWA were there watching out for rights grabs even when I didn't understand them.