The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision Friday that will further erode the ability of authors to make a living.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that permits libraries to send books that are under copyright protection to Google, which then digitalizes the books and returns a digital copy to the library. Google then places the digitalized book in its book search engine, where the public can search the text of the book and read displays of snippets of text free of charge.
Google’s library project makes possible “text mining” and “data mining.” This allows Google and others to ascertain public interest in particular topics and areas. Google hasn’t placed advertising on the site of books that are under copyright but presumably could do so in the future.
So far Google has digitalized an estimated 20 million books, including both copyrighted works and works in the public domain.
It’s a great deal for Google and the libraries. They each get a free digitalized copy of a book tha tis supposedly copyright protected. And Google, which is worth $364.99 billion, becomes further entrenched as the dominant search engine on the Internet. What do author’s get?
Authors get nothing.
The hsitory of this case is distressing at best. About a decade ago, the Authors Guild brought a class action lawsuit against Google to halt its use of copyrighted material and the parties agreed to a settlement that called for payments to the rights holders. A federal court judge in New York nixed the settlement. The Authors Guild filed an amended complaint in 2011 and Google moved for its dismissal on the grounds that Google’s use of the copyrighted material qualifies under an exemption in copyright law known as “fair use.” In 2013, Google’s motion for summary judgment was granted and the case was dismissed. Now the appeals court has upheld the dismissal.
The appeals court said the ultimate goal of copyright is to “expand the public knowledge and understanding … while authors are undoubtedly important intended beneficiaries of copyright, the ultimate, primary intended beneficiary is the public, whose access to knowledge copyright seeks to advance by providing reward for authorship.”
Meanwhile, author earnings are plummeting.
The Authors Guild conducted a survey of its membership earlier this year that found that the income of full-time authors has decreased 30 percent from 2009 to 2015, and the income of part-time authors declined 38 percent.The average full-time author earns $17,500 and a part-time author makes $4,500.
It’s hard to see how these low wages can sustain writers who are not faculty members at a university, retired or willing to work a second job. If authors can’t earn a living writing books, won’t that affect the public knowledge and understanding?
The Guild attributes the decline in author income to Amazon’s dominance in book sales and the associated shuttering of thousands of brick and mortar bookstores, the rise of e-book sales and related on-line book piracy, and the decline of traditional publishing houses.
The Guild said authors should get a more equitable share of revenue from their works and urged the government to strengthen copyright and priracy laws.