Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bezo's is Against it, Schonfeld Misunderstands it: Google Book Settlement

Erick Schonfeld over at Seeking Alpha notes some self-serving opinion from Jeff Bezos on the Google Book Settlement (Link):
That settlement in our opinion needs to be revisited. It doesn’t seem right that you should kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights. The class action settlement law . . . you can’t believe that is the way it actually works.
But Schonfeld then goes on to make the following specious comment:
Google’s book settlement gives it a blanket right to display the text of any orphan work (unclaimed books still under copyright), and to sell digital copies of such works. Since the majority of book actually fall under this category, the settlement would in effect give Google an exclusive right to show or sell these books.
I added the bold. He knows nothing about what amount of books will or will not end up being Orphans. Just more ill-formed opinion.

UPDATE: Tim O'Reilly was at the same conference and posted some notes and here is a sample (He also got Erick's comment above): LINK
"These new businesses are very energizing. We don't 'stick to the knitting'...I wouldn't even know how to respond if someone said 'Jeff, this isn't the knitting.' But we do make business decisions in a very deliberate way: we work backwards from customer needs, and we work forwards from our business skills."


Michael W. Perry said...

It might help to look at the data surrounding Erick Schonfeld's prediction that the majority of the books Google intends to display will be orphaned works, meaning that the copyright holder has not given Google permission for that display.

But before we do that, we should take note of the current situation. The books that Google scanned and were sued about were in university libraries. That means their authors were much more likely to be well read and aware of what was going on, particularly in the university community. Also note that the lawsuit and settlement have been given far more news coverage than anything that will follow, should the settlement be approved.

That means that what we have at present is a best-case scenario: the best publicity for the best informed group. Any later scanning by Google will show a poorer rate of return.

Now we need to find out just how many authors of currently scanned 'orphan works' have stepped forward. The quote that follows came to me personally from an email by Michael Boni, the court-appointed lawyer representing the 'author subclass' in this dispute. I am the "you" he is addressing.

Like others who have criticized the settlement, you erroneously assume there will always be a vast body of works improperly characterized as “orphan works.” In fact, already over 26,000 “parents.” i.e., rightsholders, of approximately 600,000 so-called “orphaned works” have arisen from the dead and claimed those works. Those numbers will continue to rise significantly in the upcoming months and years, and when the Registry is up and running.

Do the math. 26,000 out of 600,000 means that just over 4 percent of authors in this initial, best-case scenario resulted in someone registering and either opting in or out. But for the court's extension of the deadline from May 5 to September 4, the other 96 percent would have already been forcible opted in without their knowledge or permission.

Those are the numbers direct from someone who ought to know. All but 4 percent of the books in the initial scan are, in Google's terms, 'orphan works.' That's not only a majority, that's an overwhelming majority.

The numbers will never get any better than that. If this settlement is approved, Google's scanners will go into overdrive and their publicity machine will sink into hibernation. The numbers of copyright holders in the registry will shrink to 3 percent, to 2 percent and then perhaps below 1 percent.

When that happens, Google and Google alone will 'own' the right to display most of the out-of-print books in the world without the copyright holders' permission. Given the terms of the settlement, no one else will be able to display those books and the Registry will have no contact information more than perhaps 1-2 percent of those titles. Others won't even be able to contact these author for permission.

This brings up an important question. Why hasn't anyone forced Google to reveal in greater detail figures such as these? All we've been getting from Google is soft and squishy marketing speak.

--Michael W. Perry, Seattle

JulietS said...

Maybe I'm totally misreading what was written, but I read "26,000rightsholders of 600,000 orphaned works", to mean that 26K rightsholders had claimed a total of 600K works (about 2 works/rightsholder), not that only 26K out of an estimated 600K rightsholders have appeared. I guess the key is whether that 600,000 number refers to works or rightsholders.