GBS: Ursula LeGuin Resigns from the Authors Guild to Protest the Settlement


I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

UPDATE: And the Authors Guild’s response:

Litigation, particularly litigation over the bounds of fair use, involves risk. Some critics of the settlement wrongly dismiss that risk, but the fact is that we certainly could have lost the case. Losing would have meant that anyone, not just Google, could have digitized copyright protected books and made them available through search engines. Since creating a search engine is rather simple, anyone with a website — Civil War buffs, science fiction fans, medical information providers — would then have been empowered to start the uncontrolled scanning of books and the display of “snippets.” Authors would have no say in those uses and no control over the security of those scans. The damage to copyright protection would have been incalculable.


This further confirms a schism in the Authors Guild which no longer can be ignored by the trade press and mainstream media, or by Judge Chin. This was also confirmed in docket filing 317, by attorney and author Mark L.Levine who objected to the settlement. He writes a column in the Authors Guild Bulletin.And former Authors Guild President, noted historian Robert K.Massie opted out and wrote Judge Chin (Docket 664,9/11/09) stating that the GBS was the biggest “outright theft of copyright” since the Soviet Union.


The leaders of the Authors Guild assert that a major motive for their settling with Google was their great fear that the world might find out that there is (as they claim) no strong legal barrier (in the US) to any scanning of in-copyright books to create a searchable online index.

So they proceed to inform the world very publicly that there is, in their view, no strong legal barrier to any scanning of in-copyright books to create a searchable online index…

‘Civil war buffs’ and ‘science fiction fans’ take note.


The Google/Author’s Guild Settlement completely sidesteps the issue of whether scanning a complete book to display “snippets” is fair use. Instead, the Settlement is an ongoing publishing contract that gives Google broad publication and sales powers that last for the entire copyright term.

Therefore, the Author’s Guild’s reply to Ursula LeGuin is bogus. Yes, the AG might have lost the “snippet” suit in court. No lawsuit is a sure thing. However, if the AG had won their original suit regarding “snippets”—or at the very least hammered out in court a harmless-to-copyright-holders definition of “snippet”—that precedent would have protected copyright holders.

Since the AG set no precedent, any and every other party that wants to scan entire books to display “snippets” is still free to do so and then wait for someone to sue them. In short, the The Author’s Guild has protected no copyrights at all. They’ve just given Google an enormous grant of rights owned by numerous copyright holders with no connection to either the Author’s Guild or Google. And which, contrary to Google’s PR, are by no means all out-of-print or so-called orphan works.


Since the AG set no precedent, any and every other party that wants to scan entire books to display “snippets” is still free to do so and then wait for someone to sue them.

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