Monday, August 24, 2009

Judging a Digitized Book Settlement by its Cover

We've followed the brouhaha surrounding the proposed settlement of the Google digitized books class action with some interest. (A pdf of the 2005 complaint filed by the Authors Guild can be found at

A Washington Post editorial has good summary of the settlement here.

Earlier, this month, the William Morris Agency advised its clients to object to the proposed settlement, and a flurry of letters, rebuttals, and rebuttals of rebuttals flew between William Morris and the Authors Guild. See coverage here, here, here, and here.

It's no real surprise that literary agents, publishers, and authors have concerns about the potential effect of the settlement. The dueling correspondence between Willaim Morris and the Authors Guild focuses on protecting the rights of authors.

It's not even a surprise that the Justice Department is investigating the settlement, citing possible antitrust concerns.

To us, the surprise was the news that Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo plan to join the Open Book Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits, individual authors, and libraries that is forming to oppose the settlement.


  1. Maybe we are witnessing the beginning of a new trend. Perhaps, we, as a country, are ready to finally revise our copyright laws. Copyright protection was included in our constitution hundreds of years before the information age. The original goal of the copyright law was to promote the exchange of ideas, while preserving the author’s ownership. I believe we simplified the method of copyright protection to further the goal of exchanging ideas. (For example, copyright ownership attaches as soon as a person memorializes an original idea. No forms to complete and no government filings.). The founders of our country believed that the exchange of ideas would contribute to society’s development and advancement as a whole.

    However, the information age combined with a strict-reading of the constitution, derailed our goal of exchanging ideas. Under the current line of copyright cases, a blogger is barely allowed to link to an author’s article without triggering copyright violations. So, we cannot exchange ideas or information in this new age of easy sharing. This is an absurd result. Using copyright laws to prevent digitizing books, is an absurd result. And, I say this as an author. (Though of only legal articles which would hardly compare to literary works).

    Digitizing books is akin to making the books available in the free library. It’s time to bring our laws in line with our technology. And, frankly, I thought every author wanted more people to read his or her work. The information age makes that possible. Just imagine how far our society would advance and mature if we were able to access, read, and discuss the writings of a migrant farmer worker from a small town in Texas. Imagine being able to compare his viewpoint with the experiences of longshoreman from a small town in Maine. But for digitized books, we would probably not have that opportunity.


    Sharmil McKee
    Business Attorney
    McKee Law Office
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Visit the Small Business Law Blog at

  2. Sharmil.

    You raise some interesting and thought-provoking points. I, personally, enjoy the convenience of reading digitized books.

    I do believe that authors' concerns about piracy need to be addressed, however.

    Thanks for joining the discussion,