In a very bad decision for authors, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the Authors Guild (AG) appeal of the Google Book Scanning Project, terminating on April 15 a decade-long case that has struck at the heart of the publishing industry.
This decision comes after two separate appeals courts ruled that Google did not need the consent of copyright holders to digitize more than 20 million books to create a for-profit searchable database containing those books and others. The court held that Google’s mass digitizing effort was a fair use under US copyright law.
NWU, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have also opposed Google’s book-scanning project, calling it the greatest copyright violation in history. We continue to advocate for a Digital Library of Congress, not Google, a private, for-profit corporation. And we believe that authors should be paid when their work is used commercially.
The Authors Guild first filed against Google in September 2005, followed by the publishers a month later. In 2008, Google, the AG, and the publishers agreed to a settlement that would allow Google to continue scanning university libraries for-profit. (They were never once ordered to stop in 10 years of litigation.) The arrangement also put the AG in charge of the collection and distribution of funds to authors. That settlement was opposed by NWU, SFWA, ASJA, the US Copyright Office, and the Department of Justice, to name a few, and was thrown out by Judge Denny Chin in 2011.
We will have much more to say and do about this in the future. While it is a big setback for authors, it is part of the general trend of wealth being transferred to a privileged few—in this case the Google billionaires—while the incomes of authors continues its steep decline.
NWU and our many allies in authors groups, here and internationally, will continue to fight for the ability of authors and writers to make a living. By doing so, we fight for the future of art, literature, and culture.