Intellectual propertyless

by Pari

Can anyone tell me what happened to copyright?

Ever since I became aware of the Google Books Settlement, I've been wondering about this. For those who don't know the ins and outs of the settlement, welcome to the club. It's a cumbersome and strange world of legalese that I don't understand. The long and short of it is that Google decided to scan more than seven million books. The assertion is that most of these tomes were in-copyright but out of print –though my first book is still in print and definitely was when it was scanned — and that Google, through the goodness of its corporate heart, was doing this as a public service. Authors Guild didn't buy the altruism angle and there was a big lawsuit. 

From what I gather, authors/publishers are now required to opt-in or out of this settlement by May 5, 2009. If someone opts in, he or she gets a one-time payment of $60-$300 and everything will be hunky dory. But Google will still have the complete book scanned and what's going to happen to that work over time?

Am I the only one who thinks this isn't such a spiffy deal?

Sure I want people to read my writing. But there's something that irks me about businesses profiting off of my writing when they didn't have squat to do with its creation or production — and that I won't receive any kind of continued payment for it.

Of course, the fact that Google is paying anything at all is, I guess, a victory of sorts.  After all, there are fans (especially in the science fiction and romance worlds) and organizations that are posting complete books online without even paying a nomimal fee.

Still this Google settlement feels like a Pyhrric victory at best. I can't help wonder when Google is going to start selling subscriptions to its library of scanned books and how many millions or billions of dollars it'll make from our work (and what impact it'll have on brick and mortar libraries).

And what about organizations like This nonprofit makes books available to people with vision impairments. As you know, one of my children could benefit from such a service. I found out that BookShare has The Clovis Incident in its database now. According to an email from Robin Seaman, "Publisher Liaison for, a Benetech Initiative," I should really feel that this is an honor.

The scanning without permission is legal under something called the Chafee Amendment to the copyright law (1996).

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy that at least one of my books is available to people with vision impairments. I just want to be paid for my work.

Right now I'm feeling nickeled and dimed, like chunks of me are being chipped away, for no good reason other than businesses greed and people's miserliness.

Where in the world does this stop?

Why aren't readers outraged that their favorite writers aren't being paid? What other profession (except music) has this expectation that creativity doesn't deserve to be reasonably compensated?

How the hell are we storytellers going to make a living?

What say you, readers? Do you think writers should be paid? If so, who should pay them? Do you have any responsibility in the mix?

What say you, writers? Are you opting in or out of the Google Books Settlement? How do you plan to sustain your writing livelihood in an age when copyright for everyone, except maybe Disney (insert registration mark here), is coming to mean nothing?

46 thoughts on “Intellectual propertyless

  1. caite

    The more people have gotten for ‘free’ the more they expect for free. But, of course, it is not without cost…all the work and time the creator has pour into it. And the creator must be compensated….or there will be more more creators.

    I am no expert on how to do it, but authors have to fight this in whatever legal way they can.But yes, we readers have a responsibility as well. We have to be willing to pay for what we consume…there is no free lunch. At least not for very long.

  2. pari

    Caite,Thank you for this comment. I don’t know what to do either.

    I think there’s this perception that writers and publishers are making so much money that they can afford to lose a couple of cents here and there . . .

    And we’re all so protective of our little “nest eggs” — especially in this economy — that we think they take priority over other people’s well being.

    I think there will always be storytellers creating new stories, however, I’m not sure a reader’s favorite storytellers will continue without support.

    It’s kind of like what’s happened to review pages in the newspapers: they’re going away. In their place are a vast number of review sites online. However, the majority of those have reviews of a very different quality and emphasis.

    I’m not saying that these changes are good/bad, just that they’re occurring.

  3. J.D. Rhoades

    Thanks for the heads up on this, Pari. I wasn’t aware of the settlement. But do I understand that Google is just keeping the “preview” function, i.e. excerpts from the books, or are they putting the whole copyrighted book online? Because all I’ve seen from Google Books so far are selected pages.

  4. pari

    Dusty,Google your books and look carefully. I found a place where my book is basically completely copied.

    Don’t know what to do yet and would welcome your input. I know several authors who are opting-in for the settlement with the idea that “something is better than nothing.”

    I’m still very much on the fence.

  5. Steve Steinbock

    Pari, your column is a timely one for me. I had heard of the Google Books project, but I completely ignored it.

    Then, last week I ran a search for a particular review of one of my books. Lo and behold, the first “hit” that came up was my book on Google Books. I was pretty shocked. The book is in print. Weirdly, Google Books only includes about 2/3 of the book as part of their “preview.” (You read along and then come to a message that says “pages 94-125 are not part of this book preview.” How weird is that?)

    Thank you for the update on the settlement. I think it’s too little, too late.

  6. Allison Brennan

    It’s not about the money, it’s the principle. We must be diligent. Authors are not musicians. We don’t have the opportunity to have concerts and big speaking engagements and t-shirts to make up for lost royalties–unless we’re JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. I have given away well over 1500 of my books (probably closer to 2000 now) because I do believe that the best way to sell more books is to give people a taste of your work to find your readers. But this is my choice, and I target these giveaways. That choice should not be taken away from me.

    It’s my understanding if you register your works (or whatever they’re calling it) then they can’t post them ever without your express permission until they go out of copyright in 75 years or whatever it is. If you don’t sign, there could be a time they could post them. (I am not 100% sure–I have a huge article that NINC sent out on how to do this and why, but I haven’t had time.)

    I know some people I respect have a different opinion than I do about illegal downloads, but I don’t believe that once you give someone something for free, they’ll pay for it down the road IF IT IS STILL AVAILABLE FOR FREE. This is the big thing: I’m all for authors choosing to post their older books or have a marketing plan to give away downloads or fresh content (like a free novella) in order to gather new readers. Businesses do this all the time when they give away free samples. But if ALL FUTURE BOOKS are available for free, why would they buy them? By and large, they won’t. It’s the entitlement mentality of America.

    Sorry for the rant, you hit a sore spot with me.

  7. Louise Ure

    Erk! Like your other commenters, I knew about the controversy and simply shelved it. I see now that The Fault Tree has been scanned, but it shows only the first 35 pages.

    Yes, I’d like to be paid — more and more often. But the change I’d most like to see here is to have libraries pay us for the number of times our books are checked out, as is done in Canada.

  8. pari

    Allison,I’m right there with you. Even the Bookshare thing got me sort of steamed AND that’s with a child who’d actually benefit from the service.

    It IS the principle of the thing — precisely for the reasons you mention.

    I’ve been reading all the comments on Novelists, Inc and still am befuddled.

    Have you registered your books? Have you opted-in? I’m having a difficult time even with the search function.

  9. pari

    Louise,It truly would be amazing if authors in the U.S. got compensated for library usage. I know that many, many of my readers find my books this way.

    Of course, that would also presuppose a tremendous national support for libraries and that’s an assumption we can’t make given how many are closing due to lack of funding.

  10. kit

    whoah..this is a biggie, to me…personally, I think it is just wrong…that someone else gets paid for the work you do.

    On the other hand, something tells me that the people that would use this aren’t the type of people that would go out and buy a book anyway.

    This is my stand from a reader’s POV…reading on the net and actually holding a book in your hands are 2 completely different things.

    I spend alot of time on the net, and I spend alot of my time reading, while reading I can set that book down anywhere or carry it with me..yes, there are ways to do that with the new technology…if I want to hi-hight passages or write notes to’s right there with me…I don’t have to keep flipping screens.WhatI’m trying to say is by its very nature…technology has it’s limitations and isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    Second of all, has anyone pointed out to this mega- giant they are shooting themeselves in the foot? In that they are killing the cow that produces the milk?

    If I were a published author, I would look into how to stop this from happening to any more of my work…there has to be some way to protect it.

  11. Christine Cook

    My question is, even if you “opt out,” what does that get you? Does that mean they’ll take your novel off their sites? I really doubt it.

    Opting in doesn’t seem like a great deal.

    I haven’t read the actual agreement yet, but I wonder if, when you opt out, then find your work is still out there (in “preview” or in its entirety) do you have the right to sue them?

  12. J.D. Rhoades

    I did what you suggested and looked up my books. Looks like an average of about 35 pp is there for each one, then it cuts off.

    A big excerpt to be sure, but I’d hope that someone who went that far would want to buy the book and see what happens next. I’m not ready to declare the death of copyright just yet, at least not over this.

  13. Steve Steinbock

    I just counted. There are a little more than fifty pages of my third book available for “preview” (37 pages of my first book, 51 of my second).

    On the right side of the page, it says “Pages displayed by permission” – whose?

    I’m all for “fair use,” and in my case we’re not talking about the complete books. But I find the whole thing disturbing.

    Pari, I’ll check out the settlement. But at the moment I’m feeling chafed by Chafee.

  14. John Dishon

    From a moral standpoint, clearly authors should get paid for their work. But from a business side, is this really an issue?

    Book piracy isn’t a problem yet. Not even the bestsellers have taken a dent from book piracy or illegal downloading or whatever; so most writers, who have low readerships anyway, comparatively, have even less need to worry about it.

    Also, who reads crime fiction anyway? Isn’t it mostly older people, say 40 and up? And mostly women? Maybe that’s wrong, but I think I read that or heard that somewhere.

    Anyway,it’s not college students, 20 somethings. Young people didn’t make James Patterson a millionaire.

    But what demographic is known for file sharing and illegal downloading on the internet? College students, 20 somethings. It’s not 45 year old women downloading songs illegally.

    So even if book piracy does become a problem, no one’s going to pirate your books. The people who do that kind of stuff wouldn’t read your book if you put an autographed copy in their hands.

    Of course, a free download does not equal a lost sale. If giving away one free item meant one free lost sale, then so many businesses wouldn’t give out free samples of their products. They must be getting a positive return or they would stop doing it.

    Giving away free stuff can also establish a rapport with your potential customers. Complaining about not getting paid for a book that is being used to help the disabled makes you come off as greedy; even though it is your right to be compensated, maybe complaining about it isn’t the best PR move.

    And if it really is about the principle of the thing, and not the 25 cents in royalties you’re maybe missing out on, and you live in America, then start campaigning for libraries to be shut down, because more people read books for free without compensating the authors from libraries then from the internet.

  15. pari

    Kit,Thanks for your perspective. I think Authors Guild was trying to make the point about shooting oneself in one’s foot by bringing the lawsuit in the first place.

    My post is really about the settlement because I don’t know what to do AND about piracy in general.

    It’s possible that the folks who’d use the registry aren’t the ones who adore books in hand . . . I don’t know.

    But I do know that protecting our work is becoming increasing difficult and we’re being hit with the same kind of backlash that musicians are about Our greed in this for wanting those pennies on the dollar.

    It’s sure a messy issue.

  16. pari

    Christina,I don’t know the answer to your question. I hope more people will chime in with their reasons to opt in or out.

    I also know that the Novelists Inc blog will have more on this in the coming weeks . . . so watch there, too.

  17. pari

    Dusty,My book was scanned and is posted with far more text than what you’ve found.

    And as for the death of copyright, well, I’m not claiming that.

    But I do think it’s wounded.

  18. J.D. Rhoades

    Looks like 61 pp of THE SOCORRO BLAST, out of 318; 58 pp of THE BELEN HITCH, out of 294; and 44 pp of THE CLOVIS INCIDENT, out of 231. You still have to get the book to find out what happens, and lo and behold, there are links to do just that, including one to Indiebound.

    We ought to be using this as a promotional tool, since people love excerpts.

  19. J.D. Rhoades

    I haven’t read all 141 pages (plus attachments) thoroughly yet, but at first glance, it appears to: limit the amount of pages that can be set up as “previews”; set up a regime by which digitized copies of books can be sold through Google, with payments of 70% of net revenues for that going to some sort of “Registry” set up by the Plaintiffs (i.e. Authors Guild), who will then make sure the “Rightsholders” get paid; allows a “Rightsholder” to say “no I want you to pull my book out of this.”

    Not saying yay or nay yet, but there may actually be opportunity here. I’d like to know more about how this “Registry” thing works and how “net” revenue is arrived at.

  20. Sandy

    Although I just gave the document a cursory look, I think pp. 9-12 (approximate) can give you some solace. First, the $60-300 is for what has already been done, making those who opt in for the settlement whole, as the saying goes. If you don’t, it could be that you are precluded from suing Google for more because this case was given class action status.Next, the rightsholders then have the say. If you want what they’ve already scanned to be part of their library, you say so. If not, you say so.For any upcoming book (after January 5), you have the same right. If you elect to allow Google to scan a future book, they will pay you 63 percent of the payment they take in.So, as I read it, the lawsuit’s lifesaving tubes and medications have effected copyright’s resuscitation. Hope this alleviates some concern.

  21. J.D. Rhoades

    I’m also liking the idea of strenghtening another paying outlet for e-books besides Amazon and a another option for reading them besides Kindle.

    The key word there being “paying.”

  22. Allison Brennan

    John, you said it: “It’s not a big problem YET.”


    As more people read online, it will become a bigger problem.

    Libraries BUY A COPY of the book and there is a life to a physical book. Only one person can read it at a time. People have to wait. People who don’t want to wait will either buy it or petition the library to purchase more copies or get it on inter-library loan. But a download can be replicated a gazillion times. I actually have no problem with used book stores. That copy was purchased. It can really only be read a few times before it starts to wear out. (especially mass markets.) And not everyone resells their books. And most used book stores are new and used. They’re not copying the book and selling copies; they’re selling a copy I have been paid for.

    BTW, most of us get more than 25 cents in royalties. In mass market, it’s 57-70 cents–not huge, but certainly in volume adds up. In hardcover, it’s closer to $2-3 a book.

    Dusty: I have no problem with 35 pages up. Ballantine does it with my books, usually 1-3 chapters. Great. Sample my voice. I put samples on my website. I’m probably going to print samplers for the supernatural series. I even have some original content ideas I’m going to give away for free. My choice, my right. Posting books completely–or like with WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE from Pocket, my anthology, which has the first 100 pages (most of my novella) and then the last 10 pages (the climax and ending of my partner’s novella) is ridiculous. If KILLER YEAR antho was in there (and it might be) some stories could be read for free. Fine–I’m all for that. If I want to, as the copyright holder, give away my story for free.

  23. Lorraine

    For what it’s worth, as an avid reader in that group of older women, who buy and read books, I would NEVER read a book, part of a book, etc. on line. Google is wasting space. I won’t even read the beginning chapter of a favorite writers new book stuck in the back of a book I have in my hand. I want the whole thing available – right now!

  24. J.D. Rhoades

    Pari: I believe the settlement agreement does give you the right to demand that. And I agree, “excerpting” becomes a lot more of a problem with an anthology.

  25. Chris Verstraete

    Unfortunately this new world we’ve recently entered seems to run on one thing – greed. It’s everywhere. And as newspapers fold or come up with new “business models,” more writers are being expected to write for free. The internet has been a boon in some ways, but the geniuses in charge now seem to be figuring more ways to make a dime for themselves on the backs of others. Where does it end?

  26. Jim

    Google Books is just the start of books entering the e-world where anyone can grab them. The more serious copyright/control challenge comes from READERS who are converting ebooks to word and PDF documents and posting them for free all over the web. Go to and see if someone has done this to one of your books or, if not, search for your favorite namebrand author.

  27. Fran

    This is the first I’ve heard of this, but isn’t it possible to accept Google’s terms and then find a way to scan the entire book and have it available for download sale from your own websites? That way, if someone reads the excerpt, they can come to the source to download. And if you price it under whatever Google charges, you’d be the primary source.

    Or is there a non-competition clause in the Google offer? I hadn’t thought of that.

    Anyway, I see why you’re concerned, Pari. I’ll be watching this with interest.

  28. B.G. Ritts

    Peer-to-peer networks have had tens of thousands of books available since the early part of the century. These were largely sci-fi, but best selling crime fiction authors were included. Big name, best selling authors, not the ones who make it to the 20s and 30s on the NYT’s list, and no mid-list authors. The books were in MS .lit and .doc, plain text, Adobe .pdf, RTF and a few others. Many were poorly copied, and some didn’t actually have the whole text of the book. You don’t know until you grab it and start reading through.

    If you don’t mind multiple aggravations while reading on your handheld or computer, you can happily read a book thusly obtained. However, if the whole book’s not there, or the formatting was royally screwed up, or the scanning and OCR left page numbers and book titles in the middle of the text, or…well, you probably get the idea. These ‘free’ books catch you at first, and then the problems usually, sooner or later, are the straw that push you back to the library or bookstore.

    It’s a wonderful way to see if you like an author you are not familiar with. It’s not so good for leafing back through to find that clue you remember was in the center of the left-hand page…because all the text runs together.

    For people who would actually buy a book, the piracy of copyrighted text is not a long-term money saving measure, but a “Wow, look what you can find online…ok, I want a real book in my hands again.” For those who won’t spend money on a book anyway, it’s a “How many can I get to have something to ‘trade’ for that one I really want.”

    Amazon and Google previews are a great way to see if you like an author. And with first chapters posted by many authors on their web sites anyway, the scanned previews of Google and Amazon just extend it a bit. If you are really into not buying the book, but the whole text is searchable on Amazon, you can read the whole thing if you are willing to re-search some relatively unique word after each three pages. But that doesn’t do a whole lot for getting lost in the story. It’s easier to go the library, a used book store, or a regular book seller.

  29. pari

    Wow. Go for lunch and look what kind of discussion blooms.

    Dusty,Thanks for your read of it. I’ve been trying to get through the 141 pages and haven’t succeeded yet.

  30. pari

    Sandy,Thanks for those clarifications. You may be right about copyright in this case.

    Allison,Did you opt in? Email me privately if you don’t want to broadcast your decision.

  31. pari

    Steve,My sentiments exactly about the Chafee Amendment. Of course, in 1996, I wasn’t published either.

    John,Interesting comments. I do have a lot of younger readers — those 20-somethings you’re talking about — and I think you’ve possibly made a couple other assumptions that may not be accurate.

    As to complaining abou Chafee — well, it’s a question at least of permission, of having some say since I supposedly own the copyright. That’s where the principle comes in. I might very well agree to donate my books to an organization to help people — but I’d like to have that decision to make rather than an organization just grabbing them.

    And, finally, re: libraries. See Allison’s comments thereon. I agree with her 100 percent.

  32. pari

    Lorraine,Thanks for your perspective. I’m glad you chimed in. I suspect there are many of us that don’t like our fiction reading online.

    I just want to understand the implications of the Settlement etc before I make a decision.

  33. pari

    Chris and Jim . . .Yep.

    That’s why I asked the question re: readers. I think at some point all of us who care about books, and the kind of books being produced, are going to have to come to some kind of agreement on what’s reasonable/fair (dare I use that word?).

  34. pari

    Fran,I’d be concerned as a bookseller too. If Google gets into the major downloading business, this might be yet another source of competition for the wonderful indies.

    Again, I don’t know. Maybe John D has a point and only the young and teckkie types download/read online. But I’ve got a hunch it’s a more significant group than that.

  35. pari

    B.G.,Thank you for your perspective. I appreciate hearing from a variety of people on this — because I really don’t know how I feel other than worried/ill at ease.

    I don’t think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill but do think it’s an extremely complicated issue and it deserves attention so that we can ALL understand more of what’s going on.

    There will always be people who love previews and those — like Lorraine — who don’t. There will be people who adore reading online and those who want to hold a book in hand.

    I just want to make a living and to be able to produce the best work I can and know that it will be appreciated for its content and the effort/skill that went into it too.

  36. John Dishon

    Well, in order to put a book online, someone has to purchase a copy of the book somewhere down the line. So a library is just slower at letting more people read for free, and they can’t keep the copy. Other than that it’s the same thing. Libraries don’t get permission from the author or publisher before they purchase your book and distribute it.

    25 cent royalties was just a number I made up to make a point, so I wouldn’t take the number itself too seriously.

    And of course I was speaking generally. Certainly there are some young people who read crime fiction, but I think my point was clear, whether anyone agrees or not, that the demographic for file sharing is different from crime writers’ target audience.

  37. pari

    John,Absolutely re: the younger demographic.

    What Louise wrote about libraries in Canada is, I think, an attempt to make sure authors continue to be compensated.

    All of this is a brave new world and I’m curious to see how it’s going to evolve.

    TO EVERYONE:Thank you so much for this discussion. I’ll continue to monitor the comments for any latecomers — and am very grateful for the breadth and depth of this conversation.

  38. J.T. Ellison

    Latecomer… I have to say that this is well above my pay grade and I’ve sent the email I received from Author’s Guild to my agent for his opinion… It’s totally wrong that we’re expected to give everything away for free. It’s a slippery slope – we’re already expected to blog, write short stories for free, do promotion at our own cost… giving away the actual work for free seems a bit much. When doctors (lawyers, etc., etc.) start giving me their treatment and medications for free…

  39. Doug Riddle

    I am coming to this a couple days late, but I have one question…..Where are the Publishers in this mess?

    Now if I take someone’s book and reprint part in a work of my own, I would expect to receive some nasty corespondense from that publisher’s lawyer. Or am I all wrong on thinking this?

  40. Joy R. Butler

    For those who want more details on this topic, I’m offering a complimentary teleseminar, “What the Google Book Settlement Means to Authors and Publishers”. It takes place on Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. ET. /12:00 p.m. PT. For more details and to register, visit

    – Joy Butler, Attorney and Author of The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle.

  41. Karen from Mentor,M1

    Pari,I wanted to see what kind of books you write, so I googled you and found a big chunk of The Clovis Incident on line. 200+pagesI read the first two pages and I’m hooked.She’s funny smart, quirky and has a talking cat…woo hoo.I’m going to go buy it now. Even if I didn’t know how you felt about your work being out there for free, I wouldn’t read a preview that big online. I like to hold a book in my hand. Plus, I like to pay the person who poured themself into the work for their time. It only seems fair.

    Hope other readers feel the same.Karen 🙂


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