Are All Writers Now Google Slaves?
Copyright is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
The right, given in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, was designed to give content creators control over who makes copies of their books and other intellectual property. The copyright owner has the sole right to profit from the intellectual property they own.
Sadly, Google is abusing the intellectual property rights of others. The courts are letting them get away with it.
This is an issue that should concern all writers, especially Christian writers. Most of us don’t like to see established constitutional rights undermined by corporations or courts.
Google is Copying Your Book Without Your Permission
Most authors put this this notice in the front of their book:
“No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews.”
Have you ever received permission from Google to digitize your book so that portions show up in search results? No, they don’t ask. The legal system has allowed them to copy your book, and they’ll make from ads connected to it.
The fact is, Google cannot show a fragment of your book in search results unless they make a full copy of it in violation of the above statement. They make an “electronic” copy without your permission.
Of course, this is a mixed issue. On one hand, Google is hijacking your intellectual property rights. On the other hand, they are giving your intellectual property the kind of exposure it could not otherwise get.
But should Google have the right to appropriate your intellectual property without permission? Most creative people think that’s unethical.
Authors Lose to Google Books
There has been an ongoing legal battle between the Authors Guild and Google, Inc.
The Authors Guild, representing writers everywhere, contended that Google was acting illegally by digitizing books without copyright holder permission.
Google digitized 20 million library books without seeking permission. They make snippets of this intellectual property available to searchers. They have hijacked books, and the intellectual property rights, under the guise of forming a vast digital library to aid humanity.
Of course, all us authors expected to aid humanity with our books too. But we expected to be paid for our work so we could afford to write more books. That is the whole point of the copyright law. It was designed to protect authors from unscrupulous profiteers.
How Did Google Subvert Your Intellectual Property Rights?
The Writers Guild sued Google to stop their intellectual property rights abuses years afo. The case went through several appeals.
What was the outcome? High-priced Google lawyers convinced the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Google was justified in hijacking 20 million books for their own commercial advantage under the “Fair Use” doctrine of the U.S. Copyright law.
In the Second Circuit Appeals decision, the judge said the decision, “tests the boundaries of fair use,” but ruled in favor of Google anyway.
It is an absurdity for the judge to say the ruling tests the boundaries of fair use. The ruling obliterated the rights of writers and other regular copyright holders in favor a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Michael E. Strauss of the Reed Smith law firm, gave this analysis of the court decision. He said,
“…the court held that Google’s Google Book database, despite clear commercial motivation and complete, unchanged and unauthorized copying, did not constitute infringement. The transformative nature of its database—mainly, the capabilities and restrictions associated with digital searches in Google Books—was fair use.”
The judge was apparently unaware that most content is held in digital form these day and there is nothing transformative about that. Even this blog post is in a database. Does that mean I can steal your intellectual property and claim Fair Use? Of course not.
The decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals devalued the rights of copyright holders. By bending the Fair Use doctrine to suit Google corporate goals, the court has essentially terminated our right to control who copies and uses our content and how they use it.
The Authors Guild Had a Balanced Approach
During the appeals, the Authors Guild wanted Congress to protect writers by creating a nonprofit like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) which protects music.
No matter how obscure a musical composition may be, or how it’s used, ASCAP collect royalties on behalf of the owner of the intellectual property or his or her heirs. The rights holder gets paid whenever the composition is used by others.
That solution would have fair to all writers. Google didn’t like it because they would have to pay for the intellectual property they use.
Various compromises were reached, but they were either rejected by the Guild or Google or the Court.
The Authors Guild ultimately took the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. They wanted to overturn the the Second Circuit Appeals decision.
In 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Authors Guild’s petition. The Second Circuit Appeals decision stands.
A Moral and Economic Issue
If anything, this case shows that individual authors have little real intellectual rights protection. There are now many law cases that dilute the meaning of “Fair Use.”
Christian writers should be especially concerned by these kinds of intellectual property rights abuses. If major corporations had their way, they would have protection, but no one else would enjoy it. We saw that when the Public Domain laws, also beneficial for the creative community, were extended in 1998 to protect the Disney Mickey Mouse copyright. Nothing goes into the Public Domain after 1923 now because that’s when the Mouse was copyrighted.
Fair Use is important; we all benefit from it. If you are not acquainted with it, as it was initially formulated before it was diluted by recent courts decisions, you can read it here. But when the interpretation of the law goes to the extreme, as in the Goggle case, then all content creators lose. We become nothing more than Google slaves.