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You can't read us this way, Indian authors tell Google

By A BS Reporter
Last updated on: January 29, 2010 03:11 IST
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Having their works made freely available through the planet is a prospect that has infuriated Indian writers and their publishers. And, they want the upstart which has offered to do the job for free stopped before the thoughtcrime proceeds.

Their American counterparts think likewise, and so you have this trans-national alliance to shut the doors and windows and wires before the upsetting idea gets any further. The fight there, rather ironically, is being led by what is named the Open Book Alliance, which subsumes the American Society of Journalists and Authors, National Writers Union, New York Library Association and US Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, among others.

The target of their angry horror is Google, the universally known search engine. The problem began in 2004, when it proposed to take its innumerable capillaries into the repository of books. Simply put, the aim was to scan all the reading material and to make it accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Which is when authors realised you can have too much, far too much, of a good thing. And that some royalties, or the prospect, however remote, was preferable to this embrace across the ether.

So it was that the Authors Guild of America sued the company for copyright infringement, resulting in the famous 'Google Book Settlement', supposed to bind almost all authors and publishers. (By then, Google had scanned and gulped the contents of seven million tomes). Expectedly, several objected, including countries such as France and Germany. Not to forget the US Department of Justice. The court — the New York District one — then asked Google to file a revised settlement.

Objections to this amended settlement were to be postmarked on or before January 28. Which is what the the Indian authors and publishers have done. Individuals apart, there are Star Publications, Abhinav Publications, Daya Publication House, Pustak Mahal, the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation, the Federation of Indian Publishers, et al.

The objection now? The settlement incorporates minor cosmetic changes but continues to violate basic copyright laws. It also retains several fundamental issues in the original settlement, like a mechanism known as 'opt out'. Meaning, if a person is silent, he is deemed to have consented to an agreement. Inherently unfair, they fume.

"The Google Book Settlement is contrary to every international treaty that governs copyright laws. Google's unilateral conduct is a brazen attempt to turn copyright law on its head, by usurping the exclusive rights of the copyright holder," says Siddharth Arya, legal counsel for IRRO. "It is outrageous that Indian authors and publishers are forced parties to an agreement that has been negotiated on their behalf by a few publishers alone, without any representation of their interests. Furthermore, the specifics of the agreement have not been communicated to the affected parties. Our objections are centred around these issues, and we are currently awaiting the court hearing scheduled for mid-February," adds Arya.

The current scope of GBS covers books registered with the US Copyright Office or published in the UK, Canada and Australia. However, it impacts the rest of the world as much, since any author published in these is included in the settlement.

Meanwhile, on its website, Google denies claims by authors and publishers who say that it has violated their copyrights and those of other rights-holders of books and inserts, by scanning their books, creating an electronic database and displaying short excerpts without the permission of the copyright holders.

Universal access, in sum, can't be just taken literally.

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A BS Reporter
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