Action on Authors' Rights

Action on Authors' Rights is a grassroots group set up to campaign in support of authors' rights.

The rights of authors are under attack

In the US the big publishers have gone into a huddle with Google and cooked up the Google Book Settlement, with the co-operation of the Authors Guild, whose statements on the matter suggest deep confusion.

Google and its partners plan to use a settlement in a civil law case to overturn fundamental principles of copyright law. They are asking the court to approve a massive appropriation of rights from authors of printed books published in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

In the UK David Lammy, Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, has praised the Google Book Settlement. The government has declared itself comfortable with the prospect that, as a result of an agreement between third parties in another state, rights in the intellectual property of UK citizens would be surrendered to a foreign corporation without the consent of the owners, and even without their knowledge.

Almost alone among the authors' organizations of the world, the Society of Authors, the Writers Guild of Great Britain and the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) have lined up to promote the Settlement alongside the multinational publishing corporations and the Authors Guild.

In the US the Google Book Settlement faces opposition that may destroy it. It has been heavily criticised by the Department of Justice and the Copyright Office.

In the UK the Digital Economy Bill now passing through Parliament contains provisions for compulsory copyright licensing that is intended to enable Lord Mandelson, or his successor, to impose a Google Books project or similar scheme by statutory instrument, with minimal scrutiny.

In Europe the Google Book Settlement has been commended by Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information, Society and Media. Copyright reform is under discussion. There are signs that forces in Europe, among them the UK's New Labour government, would like to see compulsory licensing inscribed in European law.

Compulsory licensing would undermine copyright law and interfere with the market in copyright licences. Fees from blanket licensing could not sustain a thriving, forward-looking culture of professional writing for commercial publication.

The Google Book Settlement would permit a single corporation to gain an anti-competitive chokehold on the emerging digital market. It would hinder innovation, impair the value of huge numbers of copyrights, diminish authors' ability to earn money from their works and, as a result, restrict readers' access to new writing.

Digital publishing presents authors with new challenges – and new opportunities. It remains as important as ever that authors should retain in full their rights under copyright law to authorize all reproduction of their works and make the arrangements for publication they judge to be most appropriate.

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page created 9 February, 2010