Saturday, August 15, 2009

Media Week 32: Google, Australia, Book Rights Registry

The Financial Times took a long look at the Google Book Settlement agreement. Here is a sample (FT):
That makes an effort by Google, to burrow deep into the leading US research libraries to make digital copies of all the works it can lay its hands on, seem both ambitious and quixotic. The project, begun nearly five years ago, has also started scanning out-of-copyright works from libraries in other countries. A digital archive of all extant books – even ones in which few people are these days likely to show much interest – is carrying the internet company’s mission to “organise the world’s information” to the extreme.

The first concerns the exclusive right that Google would have to distribute digital books whose copyright holders cannot be traced. These so-called “orphan works” may make up a large portion of all out-of-print tomes: Paul Courant, head of the University of Michigan library, estimates that they amount to 1m-2.5m of his collection of 8m volumes.

Congress has failed in its own efforts to free up these works so they can be sold without the risk of claims later from the copyright owners. It is a peculiarity of class action law in the US, though, that private legal action can achieve a result that has eluded Congress: since Google and the new books registry would be free to sell works whose owners did not actively opt out of the court-approved settlement, they would assume a right not available to anyone else.
New data released by the IDPF shows accelerating increases in e-Book sales from the top US trade publishers (release).

Many people suggest that authors can't do personal appearances so a changed model that depends on 'concerts' and merchandise will never work for authors; however, this article in the NYT shows that authors can do stand-up. (NYT):
Since they began in 1997, storytelling nights hosted by the Moth, a nonprofit, have helped aspiring writers try out new material in a nurturing environment. But lately, storytelling has exploded into a thriving genre all its own, a new avenue to prominence for writers and, increasingly, for actors and comedians. In a sense, storytelling has become the new stand-up — a way to be noticed by the literary agents, actors and directors who increasingly populate the audiences.
Andrew Wilkins discusses what he terms "Australia's most hated book" which is the report by the Productivity commission on Australia's publishing industry (Pub Perspectives)

The Australian book trade has been here before, you see. Rather like the indefatigable mole in that popular arcade game, Whac-a-Mole, the argument that books in Australia are too expensive and hard to get and that abolishing territorial copyright will make them cheaper and more available just keeps on popping up. It was the personal hobbyhorse of former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Allan Fels and it was supposed to be addressed by reforms to the Copyright Act way back in 1991.

Those reforms put in place what most still regard as an eminently sensible compromise. Booksellers wanted to get the books from overseas that their customers wanted; publishers wanted to protect the licences under which they published and distributed overseas books in Australia. In a version of the old “use it or lose” principle, the Parallel Importation Restrictions made a publisher release an overseas book within 30 days of its first publication elsewhere or risk losing its territorial rights.

Book Business magazine interviews Michael Healy on the Book Rights Registry and managing very large data (BB):
One of the most important parts of this settlement document … is that it allows rights holders to exercise a very significant degree of control over what parts of their books are displayed, how they want the books priced, and so on. And, of course, rightsholders are entitled to remove their books entirely from the settlement if they wish.

So you can imagine [that] you start with a very large set of metadata about the books that Google has digitized; you then layer on top of that a complex data set about the rights holder; and then you layer on top of that again the ability for each rights holder to express their preferences about their books within the settlement framework. … I think, probably, my background as someone who managed very complex metadata sets for Nielsen was part of the profile that interested those who were looking for someone to head up this registry.

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