“Don't be evil.” Google's famous motto doesn't mean much when it comes to writers and copyright.
Google has been digitising books since 2005, without permission, to ongoing protests from authors and writers groups.
A long legal battle continues to be played out in the US, where The US Authors Guild has asked the court to acknowledge that Google's “unauthorised reproduction, distribution, and display of in-copyright books are not ‘fair uses' under copyright law”.
The Guild, led by the bestselling author Scott Turow, is also seeking statutory damage payments to writers: $750 for each book Google has copied, distributed or displayed in violation of copyright law.
With at least 12m books already scanned by Google, the majority in copyright, the search giant could potentially have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in such damages.
A proposed $125m (£79) settlement was rejected last year when judge Denny Chin ruled that Google's plans had gone “too far”.
Every week at the ALLi office, we get contacts from writers who find that google has uploaded their book without permission, and is distributing it for free — regardless of how much it costs on Amazon or other retail sites.
How indies feel about this depends very much on how they feel about discoverability.
Please Pirate Me!
Some authors want to be pirated because they want to be read above everything else and because they believe that, ultimately, it draws readers.
The most famous proponent of this view is the brazilian writer, Paolo Coelho, ever since a pirated Russian edition of The Alchemist was posted online in 1999 and, far from damaging sales, sent the book soaring. He is a member of The Pirate Bay and has exhorted readers to download all his work for free.
Readers are “welcome,” he says on his blog, “to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy – the way we have to tell to the industry that greed leads to nowhere.”
In a recent debate about the issue on our closed ALLi Member Facebook Page, indie Jane Steen, says: “You can either run around like a headless chicken trying to stop the leaks, or shrug your shoulders and appreciate the exposure your work's getting.
“I prefer to leave the fight to coordinated bodies like ALLi – and, in the long run, we may find that our best allies are the self-publishing platforms themselves.
“One day Amazon, B&N, Kobo et al may wake up to the fact that they're losing revenue and use their big guns to reduce pirating. Right now we're still in the Wild West era of digital publishing.”
What do you think?