Carl Slaughter’s Open Letter to the CEO of Google

By Carl Slaughter:

To: Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google
From: Carl Slaughter teachenglishabroad@yahoo.com 86-18437781522

Congratulations on your recent promotion. Now shut it down.

Quick update: I registered these domain names: I HATE GOOGLE DOT COM, I LOVE GOOGLE DOT COM, I LIKE GOOGLE DOT COM. Your legal department threatened me repeatedly with legal action.

You fiercely protect your own property – or in my case, property you claim to own – but refuse to protect the property of others. And not only do you not fight piracy, YOU ARE COMMITTING THE BIGGEST ACT OF MASS THEFT IN THE HISTORY OF COPYRIGHT.

I am referring to your book project. You tried to publish 30,000,000 books without permission or compensation. The only reason you offered compensation later is because the Authors Guild took you to court.

The Authors Guild’s solution was to ask you for $3,000,000,000. Your solution was to offer them $125,000,000. My solution is for you to stop publishing someone else’s books. Or rather, everyone else’s books.

And make no mistake, what you are doing with Google Books is essentially publishing in spirit and letter. It’s obvious you intend to coop the entire publishing industry. It is furthermore obvious from your longstanding actions that you consider all material whatsoever fair game, plan to assimilate all of it, and don’t intend for anyone but you to profit.

Meanwhile, you let Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel (WME) take a beating in the media when he took you to task over piracy. Then you snubbed Chris Dodd (MPAA) and rebuffed Geoff Taylor (PBI).

Most of the books you’ve scanned are nonfiction and most of the people I network with write mostly fiction. But you will eventually start assimilating fiction. Movies, TV shows, music, sports, photos. You’ll eventually target anything that can be offered online. You are the Borgle.

But even before your pending invasion, piracy has long been a major problem in the fiction community. Why else would the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have epiracy and copyright committees? Why else would speculative fiction matron Ursula K. Le Guin cancel her membership from the Authors Guild and publicly renounce their decision to (temporarily) compromise with you?

Authors routinely offer excerpts on their websites, as do publishers like Tor. At SF Signal, I have linked readers to as many as 9 sample chapters from one book. FreeSFOnline.de offers free short stories in print and podcast form. But they get the author’s permission. You can’t post or distribute scenes, chapters, or entire stories, much less entire books, without permission from the authors.

In search of authors to interview and books to feature, I have perused the catalogs of the major speculative fiction publishers and the major agencies with large speculative fiction clientele. I have read jacketcopy for thousands of novels. I did the same with the 300 and 900 sections of the library to get caught up on all those things my professors didn’t tell me in college.

So I can tell you from extensive personal experience that reading the jacketcopy of a book suffices for someone to decide whether to read a book. And Amazon is already providing that service. You are enticing people to your site by offering aggregate snippets that essentially gut the contents of the book and render a reading, i.e. purchase, unnecessary.

Just as aggregate news sites, with high Google ranking, gut news stories by offering readers the key paragraphs and a perfunctory link to the original source. Thus, they drive advertisers away from newspapers and magazines that rely on advertising revenue to generate news. These aggregate news sites use the same fig leave of “fair use” to justify the same parasitical process.

Furthermore, cyberlockers, which your search engine makes easy to find, delete advertisements, which underwrite television production costs; just as download sites cut deeply into ticket sales, which underwrite movie production costs.

Screen sci-fi is particularly sensitive to production costs because of the special effects, spaceship/extraterrestrial sets, alien prosthetics, varied costumes/uniforms, and so on, unique to this genre’s visual storytelling.

Big and small screen speculative entertainment – science fiction, fantasy, and horror – have long since gone mainstream. But if this trend continues, THERE AIN’T GONNA BE NO MORE SCI FI MOVIES AND SCI FI TELEVISION SHOWS CUZ THERE AIN’T GONNA BE NO MORE PRODUCTION FINANCING FOR NO MORE SCI FI ENTERTAINMENT.

As an example, I recently interviewed Matthew Warner, novelization author for Plan 9, the remake of Plan 9 from Outer Space. He gave me the username and password to access the reviewer copy of the movie. He needn’t have bothered.

I typed this formula into the Google search engine: “Plan 9” “watch.” With the help of Google’s auto complete, I drew up plenty of sites that offered pirated versions of Plan 9. I clicked on the first one and was able to watch THE ENTIRE MOVIE IN CINEMA QUALITY WITH NO TECHNICAL PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER COMPLETELY FREE.

I need to add that I’m talking about the 3rd or 4th pages of hits. Not those Asylum produced blockbuster copycats or those hideously unwatchable Kickstarter financed projects deep in the archive.

On one site, 18,000 people had viewed Plan 9. Amazon lists Plan 9 at $5 to rent and $13 to buy. Do the math. And that’s just one site.

Same site, Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, 6 weeks after its release, 5,000,000 views. Captain America: Civil War, 3 weeks after its release, 700,000 views. Multiply that by a $10 cinema ticket.

Hateful 8 producer Richard Gladstein said a few weeks after its cinema release that it had been illegally downloaded 1,300,000 times. A few months later, same site, 1,870,000 views.

Expendables 3 producer Avi Lerner claims he lost $250,000,000 because of illegal downloads. Same site, 2,000,000 views. Gladstein and Lerner blame you and Lerner calls Obama a coward for not standing up to you.

Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd claims her season 5 premiere was illegally downloaded 1,200,000 times. She Googled “watch Fear the Walking Dead.” The first hit you gave her was AMC. The second was a pirate site.

I emphasize most of these statistics are for one site. Multiply the views times the number of pirate sites, add DVDs to the formula, and you begin to see the magnitude of piracy.

After my investigation of piracy in the “Plan 9” case, I typed the search formula “download videos” into the Google search box and discovered that Chrome offers a video downloader accompanied by a disclaimer about piracy.

I have the screen shots to prove all this.

Thus Google facilitates piracy but gives lip service to copyright, all the while practicing far more piracy than anyone.

The director of Plan 9, John Johnson, whom I also interviewed, Matthew Warner, the actors, and the production crew at Darkstone have bills to pay, mouths to feed, careers to forge, college tuition to save up for. And you’re taking food out of those mouths.

Nor are my encounters with Google my first major encounters with large-scale piracy.

I travel extensively as an ESL teacher. So far, 18 countries on 4 continents.

I’ve seen movies, TV shows, documentaries, albums, and books on sale in every nook and cranny of Asia – subway stations, bus stations, compound gates, bridges, alleys, vans, even a restaurant. I’ve seen entire markets with numerous shops selling thousands of titles. (Yes, thousands.) More than once, I have found pirated versions of Hollywood movies on sale before they were scheduled to be released in American cinemas. When I was in a Beijing [CHINA] bus station, pirates were selling DVDs without fear. When I was in the main Greyhound station in New York City, pirates were brazenly hawking the leaked draft version of X-Men Wolverine. When I was in SAUDI ARABIA, they were selling copies of Fahrenheit 9/11 right outside the biggest bookstore in Jeddah. I am very sure the DVD shop in BURMA on the Thai border across from Mai Sot has no business arrangement with anyone in Hollywood. Same with the DVD markets on Beijing’s south side, in the Morning Market in Vietiane [LAOS] on the Lao-Thai border, and in MBK, Bangkok’s [THAILAND] biggest mall. If there is anyone you would not expect to sell pirated merchandise, it would be the major retailers. But in Beijing’s largest bookstore, I bought the complete Friends series, only to discover that the episodes were taped from Channel 14.

ESL is big in China. A slew of ESL MAGAZINES print dozens of articles per issue. Almost all of these articles are pirated from American and British periodicals and news agencies. In CAMBODIA’s ESL schools, pirating textbooks is standard operating procedure. Worldwide, it seems the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary [DICTIONARIES] is the pirated desk dictionary of choice. Windows is popular in China. American and British pop music is almost as popular as Chinese pop music among China’s youth. Every one of my students has a smart phone and every one of those smart phones has numerous American and British pop [SONGS].  International credit cards are not widespread in China, especially among high school/college students. I’ve traveled to and taught in so many cities in China, I’ve lost track. I’ve used countless computers in offices, dorms, and Internet cafes. I’ve yet to see a Windows [OPERATING SYSTEMS] or NOD 32 [ANTIVIRUS] program that isn’t pirated.

And piracy is not limited to western countries being the prey. Chinese students take an awful lot of standardized local and national academic and professional exams. Free pirated pages of Chinese written and Chinese published exam prep books are readily available online.

Back to sci-fi and piracy. Galaktika, a Hungarian magazine, has been publishing translated short stories without permission or compensation. The SFWA continues to challenge and expose Galaktika and its editor continues to spout increasingly sincere sounding spin doctor excuses.

Foreign language magazines and publishers represent a huge market for speculative fiction authors. Some authors draw more income from their foreign sales than their English sales. This investigation is only one magazine. Factor in the enforcement problem of not being able to read multitudes of languages. Also, the original magazine draws income from reprints until the copyright returns to the author.

I experienced this scenario too. A major science fiction magazine in China translated and published one of my best interviews. They promised to compensate me, quoted their rate, and asked for my bank account information. The money was never transferred. Thus I have joined the ranks of authors who have been burned.

For the record, I not only have never downloaded a pirated movie, I have never downloaded any movie. I am technology challenged. I’ve never used Bit Torrent. I don’t even know how.

I have a collection of 1500 movie DVDs carefully selected for language learning purposes. When I want to use a movie in the classroom to teach ESL – conversation, listening, idiomatic usage, report writing, cultural context – I never assign a student to download it from the Internet, although they are abundantly available through the Youku and Tudou cyberlockers. Instead, I buy the DVD.

The DVDs I have bought have half a dozen voice languages, 10-15 subtitle languages, and several bonus features. So they are obviously copied from the master. Pirated movies usually don’t have these extras. So these DVDs don’t appear to be pirated.

When I use a book excerpt as a classroom handout, I retrieve the handouts at the end of the lesson. I certainly don’t give them the book and a wad of cash and tell them to feast themselves at the copy store.

For several years, I was the editor of ESL Book Review, which used the domain name, you guessed it, ESL BOOK REVIEW DOT COM. The books I reviewed, I got from bookstores or publisher’s marketing agents, never the copy store, never the street.

(When I landed in Beijing, the translator for my host school said, “Where do you want to go?” I didn’t ask to visit The Great Wall, The Forbidden Temple, or the Summer Palace. I said, “Take me to the biggest bookstore in Beijing.” When I finished shopping, she said, “Where do you want me to take you next?” I said, “Take me to the second largest bookstore in Beijing.” And where did I ask her to take me after that? The foreign language bookstore, of course! Oh the money I spent in those bookstores; oh trail of book collections I left with school colleagues across the globe; oh the boxes of books I donated to my university English department and library. Not to mention time building a massive website and time typing a running list of titles.)

BTW, when I was in Washington DC, I went to the Copyright Office, which is inside the Library of Congress, and asked in person if my classroom activities violated copyright law.

The point is, whether discs or books, I took the high road. You haven’t taken the high road.

In response to criticism from Ari Emanuel, you came out with The Emanuel Update and The Emanuel Penalty. Or some such thing, I can’t remember the details. But it was all damage control.

With over 75,000,000 takedown requests per month and with the rate doubling on a yearly basis, it’s undeniable that you are not practicing preventative medicine on any significant scale. Instead, you are The Little Dutch Boy with too many holes in the dam and too few fingers. I can state categorically that you are not and never have been serious about piracy on any front except that which directly affects you.

And if you ever get serious about piracy, pirates will be in serious trouble. You built a driverless car. You designed arguably the first authentic AI. You mapped the world. And those glasses. I don’t even know what they do. But those glasses got an awful lot of buzz. And some people are intimidated enough by those glasses to ban them from their establishment. (What DO those glasses do?) This and much more coming out of your lab. It’s only a matter of time before you invent a brain chip that allows us to operate gadgets, type, and yes, hack technology –  right out of a sci fi story. And all this is in addition to a search engine that has eliminated the need for a second opinion.

In all the years I’ve been using Gmail, I honestly can’t recall receiving even one spam message. So why is Gmail utterly spam free while Yahoo and Hotmail are swimming in spam? Because one of your awesome geeks there in Mountain View designed it to recognize spam. Why can’t you give us software that can recognize piracy? You didn’t make excuses about spam, you just dealt with it. So why are you making excuses about piracy?

On the same note, when I subscribed to NOD 32 antivirus software, my virus problems completely disappeared instantly and I did not have even one virus problem during the entire subscription (and as part of my job, I use a lot of copy store, classroom, and office computers, so my USBs are virus magnets). Same explanation: Because an awesome geek at ESET designed it to recognize viruses. They don’t make excuses about viruses, they just deal with them.

You and the rest of Silicon Valley have given us STAR TREK TECHNOLOGY IN ONE GENERATION. But there is a conspicuous gap in this string of impressive technologies. To this day, you pretend you can’t design effective anti-piracy software. I suggest you can and would if Ari Emanuel wrote you a big enough check instead of asking you to do it out of moral obligation and civic duty.

For ESL Book Review, I used a pagebuilder that was as simple as Word. (Let there be Word and let there be only Word; let it be XP and let it be 2003; text-based command buttons, no freaking hieroglyphics.) Contributors to a couple of magazines I’ve written for are required to do their own pagebuilding and I’m ready to exile HTML to an alternate universe. So as I explained before, I am technology challenged. So correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t anti-piracy software as simple as comparing 2 lists and eliminating anything not on both lists?

Cinemas, DVD shops, bookstores, and agencies get their piece of the action. Retailers have documents on their front windows certifying they are authorized to sell copyrighted products. And they all sign contracts with studios, production companies, publishers, and authors. Pirates don’t want to settle for their piece of the action. They want everyone’s piece of the action. So they don’t sign contracts.

Copyrighted material is on file with the Library of Congress. Copyright owners have a list of people who have signed a contract to use their creative content. Pirates are not on the second list. Isn’t anti-piracy software as simple as comparing the 2 lists and eliminating from the search results anyone not on both lists?

Like I said, I’m not tech savvy, but it seems to me Silicon Valley, a community with the most talented, skilled, and experienced geeks in the world, could perform this task blindfolded, half asleep, and with one hand tied behind their back.

A talk show host who interviewed you and Susan Wojcicki counted 22 times Ari Emanuel criticized you during his notorious rant. This talk show host then posed a question to you about anti-piracy software, then posed a question to Wojcicki about customized advertising. You said Google technology is woefully inadequate, Wojcicki said Google technology is impressively precise and reliably predictive. We’re talking back to back comments. I laughed uncontrollably at the hilarity of this contradiction. Dude, you can’t have it both ways.

One minute, you’re saying to victims of piracy, “We have no way of telling you what you want to know.” The next minute, you’re telling advertisers, “We have the means to tell you exactly what you need to know.” What’s the explanation for this duplicity? Oh that’s right, advertisers are paying you lots of money for the information you provide them. How many zeros does Ari Emanuel have to write on that check before you stop indulging in this Pentagon style doublespeak?

Your legal department threatened me through an email address I was required to provide when I registered those domain names you demanded from me. So don’t tell me you can’t track down contact info for pirates through their domain name registration.

There was an awful lot of spin doctoring in the media in response to Ari Emanuel’s comments about Google. To the effect that Google has no control over the situation and that he and other entertainment industry leaders are responsible for piracy through their refusal to adapt. (I’m looking at you, Mike Masnick.)

Intellectual property is owned by the people who create it. Just as much as buildings, land, vehicles, livestock, jewelry, precious metals, insurance policies, stocks, retirement accounts, art collections, etc, belong to the people who buy them.

Protection of intellectual property is an inalienable, longstanding, universally recognized right. That right does not disappear just because technology changes. Any more than free speech, religion, assembly, redress, due process, etc, disappear because any other aspect of society changes.

You can’t publish my book without my permission. For the same reason you can’t sleep in my house, drive my car, wear my clothes, play my musical instrument, cook with my gas, wash with my water, make calls on my phone, or eat the produce from my garden without my permission.

If someone stole your coveted algorithm, you would press criminal charges. If that person was a Google employee, you would have them escorted out of Google headquarters in handcuffs. If a rival reverse engineered that algorithm, you would file a claim in civil court. You challenge anyone, including me, who registers a domain name with the word “Google” in it. If someone in your accounting department embezzled so much as $5, if one of your cafeteria workers walked into the parking lot with so much as a box of chicken strips, you would fire them. You would dismiss without any consideration whatsoever any spin doctoring they put on their behavior. You would take action to protect your company and you would do it completely unapologetically, as would any responsible CEO.

So you clearly have no reservations about applying property rights to yourself, but you have repeatedly refused to apply that same principle to the rights of others, whether it be defacto publishing or enabling pirates.

What do robbery, burglary, shoplifting, pickpocketing, carjacking, identity theft, embezzlement, extortion, blackmail, ransom, insurance float, welfare fraud, Ponzi schemes, scams, counterfeiting, and forgery have in common? They are all forms of theft.

Piracy is theft and theft is a crime. Google Books is a copyright violation and copyright violation is a crime. Pirates are criminals and protecting criminals makes you an accessory to crime. There, I’ve used the word crime 5 times in the same paragraph in reference to piracy and you.

Meanwhile, you have in your archives the entire contents of what will eventually become every book ever printed in every language, past, present, and future. As any honest geek will admit, anything in electronic form is hackable if it’s accessible; and if it’s accessible to you, it’s accessible to hackers. And you have made available a treasure more than one hacker will find irresistible. So don’t talk to me about your security protocols.

Seriously, haven’t you ever heard of Wikileaks? Hackers have gained access to massive government and corporate files and dumped the entire contents online. What’s going to happen when they hack Google Books? Or a Google employee steals them?

That’s right, they’re going make all those books available online, not in snippet form, but in their entirety, either for free on the light net or for sale on the dark net, depending on the identity of the hacker. Either way, the content creators will be left out of the financial loop and the investment of their time and energy and money will evaporate in the time it takes Bittorrent to do its thing.

Oh but wait, that means your investment in scanning those books will evaporate too. (How much money DID you spend on your book project?) Hmm, I suppose then you’ll get serious about piracy.

So I’m giving you a chance to shut it down. Shut down your threat of legal action against me, shut down your book project, shut down the piracy charade, and shut down the abuse of entertainment industry leaders who have addressed your involvement in piracy.

Otherwise, I will have to post this letter online and distribute paper copies to the media.

Postscripts:

Shortly before finishing this letter, I tested the password for I HATE GOOGLE DOT COM. (Curse you, Captcha!) If I don’t get the appropriate response to this letter, you and everyone else on the web will be able to access this letter online by typing I-H-A-T-E-G-O-O-G-L-E-.-C-O-M into your browser.

In spite of being technology challenged, about 5 minutes ago, I somehow figured out how to open a Twitter account and tried to tweet you this letter. Oh I see, only 128 characters per twit or tweet or whatever the terminology is. OK, how about this twit-tweet for under 128 characters:

I own these:

www. I Hate Google .com

www. I Love Google .com

www. I Like Google .com

@teachenglishab1

The twitter note was yesterday. Today, I read this headline in Yahoo News: “Google Wins Long US Court Battle on Book Scanning.” The Supreme Court sided with you, declining to even consider the Authors Guild’s case. The Borgle has just assimilated a very large sector of the galaxy. In light of the Supreme Courts decision, I decided to go live with this letter instead of waiting for your response.

No sooner than the Supreme Court authorized your assimilation of 30,000,000 books, Getty Images filed suit against you for pilfering their archive of 80,000,000 photos and illustrations. What’s next? I’ll tell you what’s next. You’ll target Getty’s 50,000 hours of stock film footage, that’s what. It’s only a matter time before you offer a service called VGoogle and find a “fair use” fig leaf for posting Hollywood’s entire collection of movies and TV shows. Whether the Supreme Court let’s you keep your hand in Getty and Hollywood’s cookie jar remains to be seen.

I consulted with Ari Goldberger of ESQWire.com, a domain name defense attorney with a track record for winning cases against high-profile corporate claims.  He told me I have a right to these domain names. I’ll take Ari Goldberg’s legal opinion over your legal team’s any day.

Authors Guild, MPAA, RIAA, BPI. Ari Emanuel, Kurt Sutter, Richard Gladstein, Avi Lerner. Lamar Smith, Bob Goodlatte. Too many people writing guest editorials about you, not enough people suing you.

Carl Slaughter has a degree in journalism and radio/tv. For several years, he was editor of ESL Book Review. He was a stringer for the Associated Press. He has written 300 reviews, interviews, features, profiles, news items, and essays for Tangent, Diabolical Plots, SF Signal, File 770, and Amazing Stories ezines, plus 200 critiques for the Critters online workshop. For the past 15 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. When he’s not distracted with chronic visa issues or major culture clash, he enjoys interviewing famous science fiction authors, who by coincidence enjoy being interviewed.

Google Kicks Copyright Holders’ Butts

A Federal judge today dismissed the Authors Guild’s lawsuit over Google’s library book scanning project which has been in litigation for the last eight years.

Many of the books scanned by Google were under copyright, and Google did not obtain permission from the copyright holders its use of their copyrighted works, leading to the class action suit charging Google with copyright infringement.

In dismissing the case, reports Publishers Weekly, the judge enthusiastically praised Google’s project. The full text of the decision is here.

The judge was impressed with the technology in place to allow online users to look at snippets why preventing them from acquiring a complete copy of a scanned book.

Google takes security measures to prevent users from viewing a complete copy of a snippet-view book. For example, a user cannot cause the system to return different sets of snippets for the same search query; the position of each snippet is fixed within the page and does not “slide” around the search term; only the first responsive snippet available on any given page will be returned in response to a query; one of the snippets on each page is “black-listed,” meaning it will not be shown; and at least one out of ten entire pages in each book is black-listed…

An “attacker” who tries to obtain an entire book by using a physical copy of the book to string together words appearing in successive passages would be able to obtain at best a patchwork of snippets that would be missing at least one snippet from every page and 10% of all pages…. In addition, works with text organized in short “chunks,” such as dictionaries, cookbooks, and books of haiku, are excluded from snippet view.

And the judge said that Google satisfied the “fair use” standard of the copyright law.

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

Similarly, Google is entitled to summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ claims based on the copies of scanned books made available to libraries. Even assuming plaintiffs have demonstrated a prima facie case of copyright infringement, Google’s actions constitute fair use here as well. Google provides the libraries with the technological means to make digital copies of books that they already own. The purpose of the library copies is to advance the libraries’ lawful uses of the digitized books consistent with the copyright law. The libraries then use these digital copies in transformative ways.

They create their own full-text searchable indices of books, maintain copies for purposes of preservation, and make copies available to print-disabled individuals, expanding access for them in unprecedented ways. Google’s actions in providing the libraries with the ability to engage in activities that advance the arts and sciences constitute fair use.

The Authors Guild said it plans to appeal the ruling. Its president, Paul Aiken told Publishers Weekly, “Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

Guarding Google’s Data

Huffington Post reports the new GoogleData Centers site tells you about their eight facilities worldwide, while 360-degree Street View Images takes you inside the company’s vast Lenoir, NC center.

Pace the virtual halls at Lenoir long eough and you’ll find several cute surprises — like a Star Wars stormtrooper standing guard over a row of computers. Just don’t dwell on the sight too long or you’ll find yourself wondering if that’s a sign of tyrannical oppression or a foredoomed security measure.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

Huge Damages Asked by Authors Guild in Google Suit

Google is a number with lots of zeros. And if The Authors Guild has its way, the company famously named for that number will be paying a figure with plenty of zeros in damages for illegally copying books.

Publishers Weekly reports if the court grants the Authors Guild’s recent motion for summary judgment the minimum statutory damage award — $750 per infringement – on as many as four million books still under U.S. copyright could add up to more than $1 billion.

The Authors Guild and Google lately traded motions for summary judgment in the suit now almost seven years old. They spent three of those years pushing a settlement with authors and publishers that was ultimately rejected by the judge in March 2011. The judge’s ruling against the settlement did not need to address the copyright claims that the case is really about, but a Publishers Weekly analyst now expects the case to deliver a “precedent-setting fair use verdict.”

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]

Testing Google Ngram

Google’s new data-visualization tool Ngram Viewer searches datasets of 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish to tell how frequently selected words or phrases have appeared from year to year.

Wanting to put this tool through its faanish paces I searched “sci-fi” but got zero hits. So I tried searching for the name of the most famous fan of all time, “Forry Ackerman.” There were lots and lots of references to Forry, all when and where you’d expect them to be – nothing requiring any analysis.

That changed when I searched for “fanzine”. A little blip right at the beginning of the graph showed an occurrence of the word around the year 1810. What was this? Evidence of time travel? Or maybe someone once coined “fanzine” as a technical term, long since forgotten? Patrick O’Brien readers know what a vast, specialized vocabulary there is for sailing ships alone and every other line of work presumably had its own.

Ngram Viewer allowed me to drill down to the page where it found “fanzine” – a page from a 19th century edition of Plutarch’s Lives. And no, Plutarch had nothing to say about fanzines. What Ngram Viewer actually had found was “Fanguine,” which is the word “sanguine” rendered in the typography of the time when the character used for the letter “s” sometimes resembled the letter “f”.

Can you come up with your own creative uses for Ngram Viewer? I look forward to hearing your stories.

Google Honors Pac-Man 30th Anniversary


It was 30 years ago today that Pac-Man started gobbling your quarters. Google, which regularly features header art celebrating a theme or event, is commemorating the birth of the famous video game with a free interactive version on the Google home page.

Hit the “Insert Coin” button below the search window and the game will begin. You direct Pac-Man where you want him to go by placing your cursor ahead of him and clicking.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Dick Family Threatens to Sue Google

Is the name of Google’s new Nexus One phone sufficiently similar to the Nexus 6 cyborgs from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to warrant a lawsuit by Philip K. Dick’s heirs?

The late author’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett thinks so, according to a report in the London Telegraph. The family has sent Google a letter demanding the company cease using the name.  

Google responds that it has merely named a phone after a common word that means “a place where things converge” — a choice of name unrelated to the novel.

But Isa Dick Hackett contends:

“Google takes first and then deals with the fallout later… In my mind, there is a very obvious connection to my father’s novel. People don’t get it. It’s the principle of it. It would be nice to have a dialogue. We are open to it. That’s a way to start.”

[Thanks to Moshe Feder and “Natty Bumpo” for components of this story. And no, I don’t know why “Natty” needs to use a pseud…]

Taral Wayne: Defending Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s resignation from the Authors Guild over its acceptance of the Google book search settlement has elicited all kinds of response, not all of it positive. One of the snarkier posts has brought Taral Wayne to her defense:

By Taral Wayne: I read a blogger who ridiculed Ursula Le Guin for writing a socialist utopia, The Dispossessed, and then complained about her property rights.

Perhaps if Ms. Le Guin could walk down the street and help herself to a free meal in any restaurant of her choosing, pick out furniture in a store without charge, and order all the books she likes from Amazon.com without getting billed, then she would be content to let freeloaders read her books. Whatever convictions Ms. Le Guin has or has not, she doesn’t live in a socialist utopia. She lives in the same world we do, and has to obey the same economic realities. That being the case, I see no incongruity in her asking her novels to be paid for, just like any other product or service.

As an artist, I create and sell “intellectual property” myself. Images are the easiest form of intellectual property to take from the creator and share around the internet, and it happens to me all the time. I try to take a balanced view of it. As long as it does not undermine my income, it may do me a little good to have my work shown around. I’d like to have more control of the process, but that’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, it does me little good when art is taken and posted somewhere without credit, as does happen. And the practice of pirating art also fosters a culture of entitlement to free access to intellectual properties that may not benefit creators in the long run.

The truth is, I don’t know what to hope for. For creators, there is a good side and a bad side to the internet. Which will prevail is impossible to say. I wouldn’t like to see the great paintings of the world locked up on pay-per-view sites operated by a handful of museums, or owned by Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither do I want to see a world in which no free-lance artist is every paid for his labours.

What is the middle ground? How do we provide openness to our culture, but not drive professional creators into amateur status?

LeGuin Quits Authors Guild
Over Google Settlement

Ursula LeGuin resigned from the Authors Guild on December 18 in protest of its acceptance of the amended Google book search settlement. The full text of the letter has been published on her website. LeGuin emphasized that she is continuing her membership in SFWA and the National Writers Union, both part of the  Open Book Alliance that opposes the settlement.

In October, after the Department of Justice advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York not to accept the proposed class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., the judge gave the parties another month to come up with an amended settlement. Then, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Though [Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers] kept the world waiting until the last legal minute, the parties to the proposed Google Book Search settlement managed to meet their new November 13 deadline to file a revamped version [Settlement 2.0 ]with the federal judge overseeing the case.

Now the legal clock has resumed ticking.

The Association of Research Libraries news reports that the Court set a January 28 deadline for class members to opt out of the amended settlement agreement or to file objections. The Department of Justice has until February 4 to file its comments. Then the Court will hold the fairness hearing on February 18.

LeGuin’s resignation from the Authors Guild came about a month after Settlement 2.0 was submitted to the judge. Her letter states:

18 December 2009

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

The Authors Guild answered that it regretted LeGuin’s resignation and admitted (in a summary published by the the Guardian):

that “in many respects” it agreed with her position. “We hold the principles of copyright to be fundamental – they are bedrock principles for the Authors Guild and the economics of authorship. That’s why we sued Google in the first place,” it said. “It would therefore have been deeply satisfying, on many levels, to litigate our case to the end and win, enjoining Google from scanning books and forcing it to destroy the scans it had made. It also would have been irresponsible, once a path to a satisfactory settlement became available.”

Offering to discuss the deal with Le Guin “at any time”, the writers’ body pointed out that if it had lost its case against Google, anyone, not just the search engine, could have digitised copyright-protected books and made them available online, prompting the “uncontrolled scanning of books” and “incalculable” damage to copyright protection. “The lessons of recent history are clear: when digital and online technologies meet traditional media, traditional media generally wind up gutted. Constructive engagement – in this case turning Google’s infringement to our advantage – is sometimes the only realistic solution,” it said.

There are many online resources about the amended settlement and objections made to it, among them The Public-Interest Book Search Initiative of the New York Law School’s “Objections to the Google Books Settlement and Responses in the Amended Settlement: A Report.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Justice: Google Search Settlement Unacceptable

The Department of Justice has advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York not to accept the proposed class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc. The agency’s September 18 press release explains:  

In its filing, the Department proposed that the parties consider a number of changes to the agreement that may help address the United States’ concerns, including imposing limitations on the most open-ended provisions for future licensing, eliminating potential conflicts among class members, providing additional protections for unknown rights holders, addressing the concerns of foreign authors and publishers, eliminating the joint-pricing mechanisms among publishers and authors, and, whatever the settlement’s ultimate scope, providing some mechanism by which Google’s competitors can gain comparable access.

The full text of the Department of Justice’s press release appears after the jump.

In the view of Publishers Weekly:

The blunt assessment means the the settlement is almost certainly headed back to the drawing board. In a silver lining, the DoJ recognized the potential value of a deal to facilitate book digitization, but said the current deal as written was not satisfactory.

The Open Book Alliance welcomed this development:

The Open Book Alliance is pleased with the action taken today by the Department of Justice, which we believe will help to protect the public interest and preserve competition and innovation. Despite Google’s vigorous efforts to convince them otherwise, the Department of Justice recognizes that there are significant problems with terms of the proposed settlement, which is consistent with the concerns voiced with the Court by hundreds and hundreds of other parties….

 [Thanks to Francis Hamit for the story.]

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