By Brian Brennan
The CBC called. Would I like to go on the radio and talk to Donna about the Google book settlement? Hey people, you’re talking to an Irishman here. Of course, I would like to go on the radio and talk about the Google book settlement. I would like to go on the radio and talk about anything.
For those who haven’t been following this story, here’s a quick recap:
For the past seven years, Google has been engaged in an ambitious plan to digitize every book on the planet. In September 2005, American authors and publishers launched a class-action lawsuit challenging the legality of the scanning project. In October 2008, they reached a settlement. Google will pay U.S.$45 million to the authors and publishers for books already scanned, and establish a $34.5 million system for giving them a cut of future proceeds from the sales of digitized books.
I sat by my phone waiting — like a would-be contestant on “The Price is Right” — for the call from Donna.
The call never came. First, the bookseller got to speak his piece. Then the publisher talked for a bit. Then the CBC switchboard lit up. “We have a caller on the line from Calgary,” said Donna. Then she went to a caller from somewhere else and before you could say, “Give the Irishman a chance to talk,” the program was over. Too many callers, not enough time.
Ever since then, I have been imagining how the interview could have gone:
Donna: So, how do you feel, as a writer, about Google digitizing your books and making them available over the Internet? Are you shaking under the covers?
Me: I don’t give a rodent’s posterior about Google digitizing my books. I just want to be fairly compensated for my work.
D: But Google is giving you a share, isn’t it?
M: A modest share, yes. Maybe sixty bucks for each book.
D: And you could get more money in the future, right?
M: If I don’t opt out of the settlement, perhaps yes.
D: Why would you want to opt out?
M: I might not like the conditions set after the settlement goes to a New York court for approval. I also have some worries about what might happen to my books after they end up in Google’s digital database.
D: What might happen to them?
M: Piracy. If the electronic versions of my books end up in the hands of just one unscrupulous person, they can be shared around the Internet like tunes on Napster.
D: Well, of course, Napster was shut down, so you don’t have to worry about that. But how can you stop people from sharing pirated versions of your books over the Internet if they are determined to break the law?
M: We don’t have a law. At least, not in Canada we don’t.
D: We do have copyright protection for books, surely?
M: Only for books made of paper. Not for books that can be created, copied, and distributed electronically. There have been two attempts in the past four years to amend the Canadian copyright law to provide this protection, but in each instance the bill has died on the order paper. Because of this failure to enact new legislation, the Americans have now put Canada on a priority watch list of countries where Internet piracy flourishes.
D: Very interesting. We have a caller on the line from Lethbridge. Hello, Chris, you’re on the air.
Brian Brennan is a Calgary writer. His latest book is The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story.