Saturday, October 10, 2009

Google To The Rescue

If you are a living author or the heir of a dead author, the confusing legal battle between those who support and those who oppose the Google objective of digitizing all out-of-print books must be a daunting task indeed.

As someone who has been wrestling with the idea of keeping my works “in print” for more than a decade and has attempted to keep my authorial name viable via the opportunities afforded in cyberspace, I will attempt to wade through the mucky underbrush and offer my own assessment of the process. Bear in mind that I am an author not a lawyer.

The bottom line is that Google will digitize all out-of-print books both in copyright and out of copyright, published by, one assumes, companies or individuals, whether still in existence or long gone. Most of the books will be “orphans”, the product of long dead authors and disappeared publishers that have been moldering on the shelves of libraries, public and private.

How far back they will go is anybody’s guess. My assumption is that Google will begin the process in the English language and go from there. Indeed, Google’s maw is infinite and it will undoubtedly attempt someday to put every book ever written in every language into its digital coffers.

For the author or his or her heirs, the process is a cause for celebration. The fruit of their mind, their writing and their good name will find its way into a data bank. Their work will indeed be rescued from obscurity, neglect or anonymity. There is a provision for the author or his or her heirs to opt out of the registry of author royalty recipients if they so choose . If the authors are registered, they will share a royalty with Google, who will, of course, have what could amount to a virtual monopoly on this vast cyber library.

Google’s investment in the process will be enormous and, realistically speaking, it is doubtful that any company presently constituted will expend the energy and investment required to back this vast chore. Google’s financial recoup strategy will be through advertising and sharing in the royalties of those digitalized books that will be bought. In my opinion, it will be an eventual bonanza of enormous proportions. Knowledge and information is a valuable commodity and bound to attract entrepreneurs with ideas beyond one’s present conception.

After all, Google is a business, a public company, and quite obviously it sees in this move an excellent financial opportunity. While they might couch this idea in high- minded terms of being a boon to humanity, which it is, the business aspect cannot be ignored. In my opinion, the risk for them will be well worth the reward.

As for the individual authors and their heirs, the financial benefits will be more problematic. Those books containing passed over but valuable knowledge and missed innovation will undoubtedly attract consumers. Marketing by interested parties, meaning individual authors, rights holders and publishers will be critical and expensive.

Fiction writers like myself might find miraculous resurrection based on unpredictable and unintentional consequences. Such a hope has very long odds even if the living authors or their heirs are willing to risk making a major investment to re-acquaint a fickle public or to revive an author’s name long forgotten by a living generation.

The Authors Guild and other organizations who were adversarial to the Google idea at first did negotiate a royalty settlement that seemed fair to authors, although, in my opinion, few, unless they can enlist marketing skills that are costly and innovative or through as yet unknown miraculous events, will ever see much in the way of royalties.

That said, it is better for an author to have one’s works alive and available, then dead and forgotten. Yes, Google is bound to recoup its investment and probably make a respectable, perhaps a giant sized profit. Good for them.

In many ways, what they are doing is astonishing and bold, and for an author, dead or alive, it is a gift that is priceless. An author’s work will be accessible and swiftly available to anyone who is interested, whether by accident or design Only an author knows how difficult and all-consuming a task it is t0 write, the hours of sweat and toil, the research and energy required to produce a book. Most come on the scene like a butterfly and quickly disappear into oblivion. No longer if Google’s plan goes ahead. If the planet lives so will an author’s work.

Every author who ever struggled to create form and content to an idea or a story through words should applaud Google for its courage and innovation. They stepped up to the plate and are taking the risk. Let them reap the rewards.

I’m not quite certain I’ve got it right or considered all the ramifications. I speak as an author delighted by the prospect. I hope that all issues can be resolved and move this remarkable task forward.

No comments: