Ursula Le Guin was recently interviewed for the PBS NewsHour Art Beat blog. Audio and a transcript are available on the PBS web site. One substantial segment of the interview concerned the Google Books settlement:
JEFFREY BROWN: You recently spoke out pretty strongly on the whole situation with Google, Google’s attempt to scan and sell millions of books and you submitted a position to the judge who is looking at this.
URSULA LE GUIN: What I was objecting to was what’s called the Google Book settlement, yeah.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right. But explain, what is it that you worry about here?
URSULA LE GUIN: Oh goodness, it’s so complicated, Jeff. It’s such a huge — the settlement itself is about the length of the Holy Bible, and very few people can even read through it. I think to put it very crudely my main major objection is that a small group of writers led by the Authors Guild made a class action suit and then settled it, and then they are being allowed to speak for all writers — academic writers, journalists, freelancers like me — and the settlement they made is not satisfactory to most of us.
JEFFREY BROWN: Because?
URSULA LE GUIN: Because it will allow Google to — actually as the head of our copyright office remarked — to an end run around copyright. It also allows a corporation to kind of re-write the rules such as copyright, which ought to be controlled firmly by the government. You know how Disney got to the government and got them to re-write copyright law to the extent of extending it to 70 years so that Disney could keep Mickey Mouse? That’s what we’ve got to kind of protect, is that corporations should not be allowed to write the rules that protects both writers and readers.
JEFFREY BROWN: Of course it’s interesting, I mean, the dream here of course is an old one, right, of giving more people access to information, creating this global library, right?
URSULA LE GUIN: That’s right. And that library, that is my dream too. It should be a public library. It should be the Library of Congress extended through this immense field of digitalizing sort of everything we have, and it’s not just information. It’s art, too. What I write is not information. I write fiction. It doesn’t inform anybody of anything. But it has its value. And it gets forgotten in all this talk about information should be free, you know.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why do you think it has split the world of writers?
URSULA LE GUIN: I don’t know that it has. I’m afraid an awful lot of writers have not really informed themselves. You know, we tend to be sort of busy doing our writing and sort of feeling that if we belong to a group like Authors Guild or something, that they’ll look after it and sort of see to it that our rights aren’t infringed to the point where we can’t make a living any longer.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well we’ll follow that. I think the next step, I think it’s next week is the judge has the next hearing on this.
URSULA LE GUIN: The 18th.