Is Google Books a Dystopian Nightmare?
If there's one group of authors who excel at envisioning utopias and dystopias, particularly those brought about by technology, it's the science fiction crowd. So the fact that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are sounding the alarm over the Google books settlement ought to give pause, at the very least.
That thought has been niggling at me for weeks, ever since Ursula K. Le Guin quit the Authors Guild in protest over the proposed deal. "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," she wrote in a fiery letter of resignation. Noting opposition to the settlement by the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, she told the guild she would remain a member of those less influential organizations.
Yesterday both of those groups, along with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, sent Congress a letter (text below) decrying the proposed settlement as unfair. "There are millions of book authors in this country who could be locked into an agreement they don't understand and didn't ask for," they wrote. Arguing that genuine "orphan works belong to We, The People," not to Google, they added: "The Constitution says copyright is essential and gives Congress responsibility for it, not Google and a gaggle of lawyers."
Sci-fi authors have an uncanny ability to imagine the dangerous directions in which the world could -- and sometimes does -- go when technology and corporations are unreined. But they don't get a lot of respect, at least not until someone notices that their predictions have come true.
Their warning against the Google books settlement as it stands is explicit and very much rooted in reality. It might be safer to heed them, if only just this once, before disaster strikes.