Google Book Search OPT OUT letter: WRITERS

Thanks to Sarah Sheard’s Writers Round Up and her links to the American National Writers Union I have just learned about the infamous Google Book search settlement.  
(Out of touch: who me?)

If the Corporate Copyright Lobby has their way nothing from Mickey Mouse onward will ever enter the public domain.   So the thought of slapping copyright on material that is already in the public domain is repugnant to me.   I knew had heard that Google was scanning public domain books and making the resulting digitized version available under Google copyright.   I thought that was bad, but at the same time it is better than having books lost forever. [Note: Robert Shaw has corrected this error on my part. I’ve just downloaded one of Google’s digitized public domain books and it does not in fact carry a Google copyright. There is a cover letter where Google lays down the ground rules, and the document is apparently watermarked.

Myself I much prefer the wonderful Project Gutenberg, which scans books and makes them available to everyone everywhere absolutely free online without copyright.

Art from "The Nightingale and the Rose, one of my favorite Oscar Wilde stories."
Digitizing public domain work for the common good.

But that is not all Google is doing:

1. What is the Google Book Search (GBS) lawsuit about?

Since 2004, Google has been scanning the entire collections of several major libraries, without asking for or obtaining permission from the authors or other copyright owners.

Copyright "c"Google scans entire books and other works, converts the scans from images to text, indexes them, and republishes them for profit by including “snippets” from scanned books in results of Google searches and selling ads on these search result pages.   None of the money from these ads goes to the author or copyright holder, even if someone searches for a quotation from your book, poem, etc., or all the search results on the page with the ads come from your book.

The Authors Guild (without consulting or involving the NWU or any other writers’ organization) and the Association of American Publishers (which represents major New York commercial publishers) sued Google in federal court in New York for copyright infringement.   Their lawsuit was provisionally certified as a class action on behalf of all authors and publishers anywhere in the world whose works were scanned by Google.

National Writers Union FAQ about the revised Google Book Search copyright infringement settlement proposal

The original settlement got so much flack from so many countries that this new settlement has been scaled back so that the only countries it will be inflicted on are Australia, Canada, and the USA.   Perhaps if we make enough of a fuss this settlement will also be quashed.

Sarah Sheard has mounted a Canadian Writers’ Petition in an effort to attempt to stop the settlement, particularly for Canadians.

Every Canadian writer should sign, published or not.

This petition can help achieve the best possible outcome: for the settlement to be denied.   (There are many American writers organizations vigorously fighting against this settlement as well.)   Should the court approve this settlement it will be binding on American, Australian and Canadian writers.   The time frame to do anything is ridiculously short, as the decision will be made after submissions stop being accepted on January 28th, 2010.

The American National Writers Union provides a list of options, including my favorite, which is to opt out of the settlement.   By opting out you deny Google the opportunity to take control of your work; you retain your rights.   Even though I have not yet finished my novel, I will, because I plan to self publish it and many more.

The NWU provides a sample letter for writers to use.   Even though it was not a PDF it was read-only for my computer, so I’ve taken the liberty of re-typing it here to make it easy for writers to use with simple cut and pasting.


Office of the Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of N.Y.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10007-1312

Re: The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc., No. 05CV 8136

By this letter, I opt out of the proposed settlement in this case. I am opting out of both the “Author Sub-Class” and the “Publisher Sub-Class,” and out of the settlement in its entirety.

I have written and/or published works under names including, but not limited to, the following variant spellings, forms, pen names and pseudonyms:

My works include, but are not limited to the following:

I am opting out because



cc: Google Book Search Settlement Administrator
c/o Rust Consulting
P.O. Box 9364
Minneapolis, MN
USA 55440-9364

[Optional copies for Google, print publishers, and the Authors Guild:]

Michael J. Boni, Esq.
Joanne Zack, Esq.
Joshua Snyder, Esq.
Boni & Zack LLC
15 St. Asaphs Rd.
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Jeffrey P. Cunard, Esq.
Bruce P. Keller, Esq.
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
919 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Daralyn J. Durie, Esq.
Joseph C. Gratz, Esq.
Durie Tangri Lemley Roberts & Kent LLP
32 Pine Street, Ste. 200
San Francisco, CA 94104


6 thoughts on “Google Book Search OPT OUT letter: WRITERS

  1. > “I knew Google was scanning public domain books and making the resulting digitized version available under Google copyright.”

    You knew wrong. The public domain books which Google provides do not have any copyright claimed by Google. (Google does include a cover page requesting noncomercial use, but since they do not claim or have copyright, it is only a request.)

    If Project Gutenberg has a work, by all means use it. It is an admirable nonprofit project, and whatsmore, takes care to provide as correct a copy as possible (Google uses only OCR, not human input). For other works, Google’s scans are available (free and copyright-free).

    • Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I had heard about that some time back, but never actually checked it out until now. I will edit the text to reflect that.

      I’ve been told that one of the chief values of the internet is that it is “self-correcting”, which actually means that people let each other know when factual errors are made.

  2. It has not gotten a lot of coverage in australia out side the copyright industry- I avoid copyright agencies; awfull things! Only came across it because of your site . The issue of ‘non’ verbal content ( a big area) has not been mentioned at all!

  3. I am a Australian artist .
    What is the situation for artists like me (and other creators of visual content) whose copyrighted pictures are in books that have been scanned by Google?
    Do I need to opt out ?

    • I’m not sure, but I would strongly recommend it. There is a huge amount of information available in the National Writers Union FAQ, and I simply don’t have time to read through it all just now.

      My understanding is that Google is scanning every “publication” in several major US libraries. Since “publication” includes photocopies stapled together it will also cover magazines and newspapers., and if the settlement goes through they will be able to claim copyright for this digitized version. This will give them the right to put the material online and monetize it any way they want.

      I expect any art printed in any publication would be fair game. Just in case, I would recommend sending the opt out letter. For the cost of a couple of stamps you ensure you don’t lose your rights.

      The other thing I am not sure of is material that will be scanned by Google in future. If the settlement goes through I assume all material that Google scans in this way will go into the pot.

      Better safe than sorry. I suggest trying to raise awareness there. There may well be Australian groups attempting to fight this as well.

      Good luck!


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