I’ve been thinking, and … I’m familiar with Silicon Valley software companies, having been a technical writer for several (though not, thankfully, Google). Even aside from Google’s lawyers inserting clauses to make sure the publishers litigating regarding the Settlement are not actually bound by it, and clauses enabling Google to change the Settlement later without notification, and clauses releasing Google from all accountability if they violate the Settlement’s terms, and all the other vague and dubious legalese:
Ultimately, this project was designed by R & D-oriented programmers, the kind I’ve always worked with. I cannot imagine them ever finalizing anything. Their culture says that constant change is inherently necessary. Partly because it produces new and revised products for the company to profit from, but also because they assume that change is always technical and social progress. They think it’s fine if a software release is buggy because there will always, always be a new version in the future. They never stop working on any software the company is still supporting. They just issue a version that the software testers and marketers are more or less happy with, all the while changing things for the next release to take place a year or two later.
You will notice, for example, that tasks like finding rights holders and cleaning up the database are stated to be too burdensome for Google, leaving those same tasks up to the rights holders. Google engineers probably think actually organizing this project is about as much fun as cleaning the piles of broken hardware out of their cubicles; that is, no fun at all. Many R & D engineers have incredible egos: They think because they are more intelligent than average, they know what is right for the entire rest of the world, which they look down on. They often despise the lessons of history: The future is all that counts for them. They associate mostly with other people who hold the same opinions. This is where you get Google statements like the one I saw somewhere in the documents, that says opponents of the Settlement have not proved it will do any harm, so let’s just push it through and see if it does.
I think Google believes it is necessary to constantly change their strategies for using the works acquired by the Settlement. In fact, they do need to. E-books are an emerging and chaotic market. There will be new hardware, new distribution and sales arrangements, new companies.
So, all Google wants is to acquire all books—literally—cheap, with as much flexibility and unaccountability as they can get away with. And having snagged those books for the rest of the copyright terms, to constantly play with and change what they do with the books. Their attitude is Darwinian: If the creators of works can’t manage to support themselves, that means professional writers and the publishing industry are just outmoded and deserve to die. They believe Google, and any world Google creates, must be inherently better.
I don’t think anyone should voluntarily do business with Google. But, if anyone wants to structure the Settlement as an OPT-IN arrangement, it should be as a detailed and RENEWABLE contract, where the rights holders who opt in have a fixed, and clearly detailed, contract for only a year or two. And if Google wants to change the contract, this can only be done when the previous contract is scheduled for renewal. At which point the rights holder can either accept the new contract, possibly adhere to the old version if that option is available, or opt out of doing business with Google and withdraw all their works from Google’s use. They should also, of course, retain the ability to sue Google for contract violations.