New lawsuit on not-so-orphan works
WE GO TO press in the calm before a storm - the "consultageddon" promised by HM Government on changes to copyright law recommended by the Hargreaves Review, suggested to David Cameron by a famous web search engine. It seems that a November lobby-storm will break as the government asks what uses of your work should be "exceptions" from copyright.
Everyone will, we predict, make demands like "free songs for agricultural fairs" and for Google to do what it pleases. The government will be asking what would be required for legislation allowing use of works whose author cannot be identified: and we'll be telling them.
Meanwhile, the US Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ), Fay Weldon and seven other authors have launched a lawsuit against the Hathi Trust and four university libraries.
Hathi has launched an interface to books scanned by Google. It planned later this month to start putting what it regards as "orphan" books online. When Hathi posted its list of the first 160 "candidate orphans", the Authors Guild was able to speak to the wife of the literary agent of one author of an "orphan" book, after less than three minutes' research. Hathi's search had clearly been less than "diligent", in the jargon.
The lawsuit asks the court to stop online publication of allegedly "orphan" books until legislation or the courts determine whether it's legal. Hathi's apparent motivation is to set a precedent, in the hope that their (probably) illegal action will later be legitimated by changes in US law.
Meanwhile in the Southern District Court of New York, Judge Denny Chin has set out steps towards trial of the original dispute over Google scanning library books and putting them online. Google formally maintains its actions are "fair use" - the ill-defined US legal doctrine on situations where copyrighted works can be used without permission - but was prepared to stump up around $125 million for the proposed settlement - up to US$60 for each author of a book registered with the US Register of Copyrights. But in March Judge Chin ruled out that settlement proposal. The Authors Guild has until 11 December to submit arguments for the case becoming a "class action" in which individuals affected would not need to sign up or even be identified when the case starts. (This would include you, for example, if any of your work is digitised on Google Books.) The parties have until 30 March 2012 to produce evidence,which could lead to interesting disclosures.