NZ authors protest Google book plan

Last updated 15:21 19/08/2009

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New Zealand authors are crying foul over internet giant Google's efforts to scan and digitise books.

Lynley Hood , author of books on baby killer Minnie Dean, novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner and convicted paedophile Peter Ellis, claimed Google was breaching the 1886 Berne Convention on copyright and was stealing authors' intellectual property and their livelihood.

She and the New Zealand Society of Authors called for a government inquiry to ensure New Zealand's authors and the country's literature were protected.

Authors and publishers around the world have until September 4 to decide whether to opt out of the Google Book Settlement.

The US$125 million (NZ$188 million) settlement, yet to be formalised, is the result of a class action by US authors and publishers, who sued Google for copyright infringement in 2005.

The out-of-court settlement will see Google pay US$45 million to rights-holders whose books were digitised without their permission.

In return, Google gets to use the digitised material, which will be available in the US but not in other countries, including New Zealand.

If a book is not generally available for sale in the US, even though it is widely available elsewhere, it is considered out of print and Google can display excerpts without consent.

It is estimated that Google had already scanned 10 million books and is adding 1000 a day.

It has digitised books by Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, Sir Edmund Hillary, Witi Ihimaera, Michael King, James K Baxter and Keri Hulme, all without any permission from anyone.

New Zealand Society of Authors chief executive Maggie Tarver urged the Government to conduct an inquiry into the settlement.

She said it was concerning that the publishing industry here seemed to be ignoring the Google Book Settlement and the looming September 4 deadline to opt out of it.

Opting out meant authors and publishers could ask that Google did not digitise their books, but Google was under no obligation to agree to that request. The rights-holder then had the right to take their chances and sue the multi-billion dollar company.

The deadline to opt in is January 5, 2010, where rights-holders can receive their share of the US$45m settlement, which, depending on how many people claim, will be between US$60 and US$300 for each book.

The other options are to negotiate a separate deal with Google or do nothing.

Ms Tarver said doing nothing was the worst option available to our authors.

It meant rights-holders would be bound by the settlement in the US and would lose the both right to revenue and to sue Google.

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"We recommend that they carefully consider the best course of action for them to take," she said.

Hood said Google had unilaterally included all the authors of all the books published in Berne Convention countries in its settlement.

"According to Google, if we don't opt out, we are in, whether we like it or not. This is a blatant breach of the Berne Convention.

"If you opt out, anything Google does with your work will no longer affect you. In other words, if you don't opt-in, Google will not only consider your books to be out of print and out of copyright, it will consider you, the author, to be dead.

"If New Zealand's laws and international treaties are not to be over-ridden by the arbitrary and oppressive conduct of private interests beyond our shores, the Government must do everything in its power to ensure that the intellectual property of New Zealanders cannot be used by Google or anyone else without the explicit consent of the copyright holders."

Lawyer Rick Shera said the Google Book Settlement was a very US-centric deal as countries like New Zealand were in the settlement but did not receive any of the benefits.

"If someone did something like this in New Zealand it would, in all likelihood, be an infringement of copyright."

The "terrible irony" was that New Zealanders would not get access to digitised New Zealand books as they would only be available in the US.

Research and history books were more likely to be scanned and Mr Shera said there should have been a lot more political interest in it as it affected not just Pakeha books but also Maori tangata whenua.

"I would have thought that given this affects a cultural and intellectual property that the Government should be doing a lot more to assist the understand and provide some guidance.

"Here we are trying to promote New Zealand as a digital and knowledge culture, Google is effectively transferring our culture into the digital world. I thought the Government would take a greater interest in it."

- NZPA

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