GBS: NWU Asks Al Gore to Delay the Settlement

I’m not quite sure how to classify this one. The National Writers Union wrote an open letter to former Vice President Gore, asking him to use his influence to slow down the settlement. Here’s the press release. Why him?

Gore is a Senior Advisor to Google and is said to be a friend of Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

You can just feel the anguished howls in the letter:

The proposed settlement would give Google monopolistic control over access to many previously published copyrighted books and materials. It would also give Google a license to reproduce a writer’s copyrighted work unless the writer specifically tells Google to remove his or her work from the program. This is grossly unfair. No corporation should be able to profit from the work of our members without first obtaining their permission in writing.

This is also a strong theme in Europe, where the tradition of automatic authorial control is even more strongly entrenched. The U.S. has fair use, which creates at least some open-ended user rights, whereas the European approach relies on carefully defined exceptions and limitations. Also, the rest of the world has a long history of no formalities, while the U.S. was late on that boat.

I will say that “without first obtaining their permission in writing” is too strong a claim. Under U.S. law, oral licenses are valid. (Oral transfers of exclusive rights aren’t, but nonexclusive licenses don’t have to be written.) There are plenty of uses for which a writing requirement gets in the way, and both corporate profit and authorial success are fully compatible with a handshake or a verbal “yes.”