* Posts by George Snyder

8 posts • joined 29 Apr 2009

Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo! to join anti-Googlebook war

George Snyder

Orphan Books Belong to All

The existence of orphan books is due to the lack of mandatory copyright registration system as there are no ownership records kept for orphan books, the blame for which lies with the outdated nature of Berne Convention that fails to keep up with the need and reality of the digital age and the inaction of the US Congress. What needs to be established is a mandatory online copyright registration system through US Copyright Office (or an international organization) that requires all authors wishing to receive copyright protection to register each book for a small annual fee (say, $10 a year—a no-fee system does not work as well, since it permits registrants to register without any financial encumbrance). Copyright protection for non-commercial digital distribution should be annulled if the author of a book failed to renew the registration for the book (copyright for commercial, for-profit distribution should not be affected by the annulment).

Once established, the system will allow easy identification of orphaned books since their authors are either dead and unable to renew the copyright or that the commercial value of their books are too insignificant to even afford a small annual registration fee. Once orphan books are identified, any non-profit online digital library should be allowed to distribute the books free of charge. Hybrid online ebook distributors, such as Scribd.com, should be considered as a commercial distributor, thus they should be prevented from orphan book distribution. Furthermore, the Library of Congress should be authorized to maintain a central repository for the copies of all digitally distributed orphan books than can then be accessed through a local library system.

The reason publishers are kowtowing Google and are averse to this solution is that they want to share whatever the profit Google gets for the digital distribution of orphan books. In other words, they, like Google, want a free ride on the back of those authors who are no longer able to benefit financially themselves. Congress should pass the appropriate legislation and take orphan books out of those property grabbers’ hands. Orphan books are essentially abandoned properties, and as such they should belong to all American people, not to a few well-connected people who intend to exploit them commercially.

US states mulling Google book-scan pact

George Snyder

It is clear, indeed.

Dear Hobson, I am sorry to note but it is fairly clear that your mother forgot to tell you that she had to register her copyrights with the UK Copyright Service. It would be a shame if she did not register for a measly £37 for 5 years after spending probably thousands of pounds on other publishing expenses.

As I pointed out previously, the established writers already register—they know thy must. Their lawyers and publishers make them do so even if they didn’t’ want to. For an aspiring writer, it should be a no-brainer also. The reason is simple: within the next quarter of a century, most books will be published in digital format only. Most authors won’t have printed copies of their books to show to a jury in a copyright infringement suit that books are indeed printed with their names and the dates of their publication.

In the pre-digital eras, a printed copy of your book and your publisher’s corroboration on your copyright claim were usually sufficient to advance your claim of copyright ownership without registration. After all, in those eras, not everyone could publish a book easily, and a lot of other people had to be involved with your book venture who then could attest to your claim, but all that has changed with the advent of the era of the digitalization of intellectual properties.

The wonderful thing about digital publishing is that it reduces the cost of publishing enormously, allowing practically anyone who writes a book to publish without the involvement of publishers, printers, or editors. But without a hard copy of your book, how would you prove that the digital book is indeed yours in a civil suit?: by just telling the jury that it was posted on such and such day and website while the actual website is no longer in existence?

Here is another example: suppose your digital book was pilfered or plagiarized by someone in another country whose language you don’t speak. Furthermore, that someone starts making a small fortune selling “your” book without your knowledge. After a few years, that infringer is now an established author, while your book has been mostly forgotten or is still trying to make its first 100 downloads.

Now, imagine that foreign readers of your infringer’s book happens to notice you have an English version of the book on a website, and they bring it to the attention of the authorities claiming that you have stolen or plagiarized your infringer’s book! Now, how are you going to fight that if you did not register your copy with the appropriate copyright office? Do you think the infringer would admit to the wrongdoing voluntarily? I am not saying that you will never win, but without registration, it would make wining enormously difficult—and expensive.

On the other hand, by registering with the relevant national copyright office, you get the government on your side: the copyright office keeps a copy of your book, and the date of the publication is the date you registered it. It’s that simple! It’s well worth a small annual fee. Otherwise, I am afraid that many an author will be saying, why didn’t they tell me I should register, or why didn’t they make the registration mandatory?

George Snyder

Who decides?

It sounds simple, but then who decides that the holder of a copyright cannot be found? Who does the search? Do we put a notice in a newspaper asking “would the person who wrote such and such book please come forward?” as we do in a similar fashion with the divorce proceeding in which the estranged former spouse cannot be found?

Well, actually, that is what this plan actually does, except that, instead of asking the question on a case-by-case basis, the mandatory registration plan asks everyone who has a copyright claim on a book to come forward and register.

This is the crux of the issue with orphan books. Even Google with its billions does not want to do the determinations on a case-by-case basis, for the simple reason that the current copyright system guarantees copyright based on the duration, not on the status of the copyright holder, such as whether the copyright holder can be found or not, or alive or dead.

So unless there is a blanket legal protection—which Google seeks in the Google Book Settlement for its own sole benefit, there is the possibility of the previously dead or the missing showing up one day with a cohort of lawyers claiming copyright infringement.

Google approach and my approach are essentially the same: whatever the book that was not registered (in Goggle’s plan, its own book rights registry; and in my plan, the US Copyright Office registry) after the registration period will be automatically regarded as, in Google’s plan, its free fodder; or in my plan, in the public domain for non-commercial digital distribution.

The major difference between Google’s and my approach is that Google wants to financially benefit either directly or indirectly from those books while not allowing its competition the same benefit and blanket legal protection; whereas my approach allows the public free access to the books without any attachment such as Google, as I believe those orphan books should belong to the American people and to the entire world.

The greatest issue is procedural, not definitional; that is, to decide how best we can identify orphan books and put them in the hands of the public.

George Snyder

The Devil is in the details

Copyright registration systems already exist (at least in the US, with the US Copyright Office, and in the UK, with UK Copyright Service). In fact, if you are an author intending to publish your work for profit in one of these countries, you would be a fool not to register your book with the respective Copyright Office. The reason is simple: without the copyright registration, it is virtually impossible for you to pursue various legal claims in case your copyright has been infringed.

So if your book attract a significant attention outside of your own country, and a foreign publisher wants to publish your book, yes, you’d better register in that country if that country has a registration system to protect you better in case you have to fight legal claims in that country. But then, if you are that famous, you wouldn’t be fuming about $1950 a year or whatever, since your foreign publishers would probably take care of that anyway.

So, for professional authors, registration requirement is nothing new—they are already registering, (in the US, a one-time fee of $45; in the UK, annual fee of approximately £8—less, if you register for 10 years). What my proposal aims to do is to weed out abandoned “properties,” known as orphan books, from the active “properties.” Active properties of course do not have to be making money, and certainly if you think your book is one day going to be a big hit, you can keep it active by paying the annual registration fee to protect all of your copyright. But in order to identify all orphan books, everyone who has a copyright claim has to register first. If we don’t, Google would make a persuasive case for an alternative—a sort of Bush Doctrine for books.

It is probable that an aspiring author does not have $1950 or a similar sum for various international registrations, but a book would have its country of origin indicated inside, so a registration in that country should suffice to protect all aspects of copyright. If your country does not have a registration system then you should register with the US Copyright Office just in case—on the account of the US copyright law’s all-encompassing claims of jurisdiction over almost any book of any national origin. Yes, it’s the old USA again.

At any rate, a single instance of registration should be made to suffice, which can then be verified via the Internet. Additionally, various countries’ copyright offices can be networked via the Internet so that a single query at one of the offices should give the needed information. This was not possible at the time the last international copyright treaty was enacted, and probably the reason the treaty did not call for a worldwide registration system.

As to objecting to paying any fee at all, surely, if you an aspiring author, each of your book is worth at least $10 or £8 a year worth of continuous investment? Sure, your book might not be discovered for the next half a century, but that only comes to $500 (£400) in registration fees, and surely you intend to make that much in a week when your book is finally discovered, I presume? Besides, being able to tell anyone that your books are officially registered might just give you that heady feeling you need to keep your fledgling literary career going.

Suppose if you own a property and you didn’t pay the annual property tax, would you be asking the fairness question when the taxman cometh and sell you property? Or if you own an internet domain name and you forgot to renew the registration and someone else claimed it, would you? If you own a property, it is your responsibility to make sure it stays in your hand, especially if you intend to make money off it.

As for, making distinction between for-profit and non-profit, it is relatively simple: first the digitized files of orphan books are uploaded to a national repository, say the Library of Congress in the US, or the British Library in the UK (perhaps by tens of thousands of local library volunteers). Then the files are first made available for all public and school libraries free of charge. So if you have a library card, you have the free access to those books online.

Additionally, those national repositories would authorize such well-known non-profit free online libraries as Project Gutenberg, the IPL, Bartleby, and Internet Archive to add orphan books to their online collections. As to the non-profit designation, it’s decided by their taxation status. This should allow people without a library affiliation to access those books free of charge—thus giving not only the people in the US or UK the benefit, but also everyone else in the world that has internet access.

For more on this: http://asolutiontoorphanbooks.blogspot.com/

George Snyder

Revolution , anyone?

70 years plus the life of the author is too long for copyright and 20 years is too short for patent, but anything longer than 20 years for a successful patent probably would create a monopoly that would not be in the public interest. This is why drugs are protected under patent, not under copyright. As for authors, most of whom are unemployable in anything but in their own art, it is reasonable to extend the copyright to at least the life of the author, and perhaps another 20 years for their surviving spouses.

Of course, in today's multi-tasked environment for works of art (movies, software etc.), business corporations get in the act, and they have been the primary mover in extending the copyright duration to the present sorry state. This is where the ridiculous extra 70 years of the extension comes in.

A draconian but simpler solution is to make the copyright protection for a single author to be 20 years plus the life of the author, and for corporate or joint copyright ownership, straight 70 years after the work’s first publication date --with no addendum, no exception. Furthermore, software copyright should last for only 10 years for all publicly released software (software vendors can keep their copyright “alive” by continually coming out with a newer version of the original software--which they do anyway). Customized software designed only for internal organizational use should be given a longer coverage since it is not released to the public.

Most importantly, copyright protection should not be given automatically beyond the first year. If the author wishes to extend the protection beyond the first year, he/she must register the work with the US Copyright Office (in the case of the US) with a small annual fee (say, $10 for a book, $1.00 for an article).

If the author fails to renew the copyright for his/her works, they should be classified as abandoned intellectual properties available for non-profit digital distribution. (But the for-profit distribution right in all formats should still remain for the regular duration of the copyright).

This system will allow orphan books to be in the hand of the general public much quicker than the current copyright scheme regardless of the author's state of existence (or nonexistence). So it would be up to the author to decide whether his/her work is worth extending its copyright protection, or let the public do whatever with it (but not make money at it). If the author and the spouse are dead, then the expiration of the copyright registration makes that decision. It's rather simple, and it will benefit the public far better than the current system in place.

George Snyder

Stop the Pilferage

Orphan books belong to the American people (or, for that matter, to the people of the entire world), not to Google. Apparently, on the account of scanning over 7 million books, a substantial number of which are orphan books, Google executives think that orphan books belong to them: in reality, what belongs to them are just hundreds of millions of illegally scanned pages, not their copyrights.

Orphan books are essentially abandoned properties, and as such they must belong in the public domain, not in Google’s coffers. The issue of identifying orphan books, which Google suggests is an impossible task to do without the Google Book Settlement, can easily be done by establishing a copyright registry not sponsored by a for-profit company, but by a government agency, such as the US Copyright Office. (A similar registry, called Book Rights Registry, is to be established in the settlement, but it is for the sole benefit of Google.)

With the help of the Internet, the registration process can be completed within a couple years after its inception, and whatever the books that were not registered by their authors or the rightful copyright holders during the registration period should be classified as orphan books, which then should be made available for download in a digital format only for non-commercial distribution (the current copyright time limit should remain in effect for for-profit distribution).

At the minimum, we must demand that orphan books be categorically removed from Google Books Settlement so that the settlement only deals with books with clearly identified copyright owners.

Google sued for 'stealing' Android name

George Snyder

Why Android?

Why Android? Make the name more relevant to the business at hand. how about Cellroid? The way those little plastic boxes are hyped like the latest celluloid blockbusters, it would be the perfect name.

Justice Dept to take long hard look at Google Book deal

George Snyder

Stop the Insanity

All authors and publishers, both American and foreign, should recognize the insanity of the proposed Google book copyright settlement in which Google is trying to monopolize what should be the job of the US Copyright Office (on the account of the US copyright law’s all-encompassing claims of jurisdiction over almost any book of any national origin).

If Google proposes to take care of all patent registrations in the world and decide on how much each patent holder should be paid while taking nearly 40% cut on each instance of the patent use, every government and patent holder in the world would be up in arms denouncing the idea; but the proposed Google settlement intends to do exactly that, except that it deals with copyrighted books, instead of patents.

The settlement essentially kills any future prospect for developing open Internet electronic publication market in which authors, publishers, and distributors negotiate freely for the best deal that can be struck under the prevailing market condition guided by the invisible hand of the market force. Google book settlement, on the other hand, put all that under the huge visible hand of Google guiding the market development under the legally binding force sanctioned by the US government.

Just because Google went ahead and scanned over 7 millions books on its own initiative with its own money is irrelevant, and it does not give Google the exclusive right to negotiate with all the authors and publishers in the world and force them to accept a paltry, fixed sum of money in exchange for all sorts of complex, self-serving restrictions and obligations designed to further Google’s dominance in the online information distribution market in the future to come.

There is a better way to put orphan books back in circulation that would benefit the general public much more without the public being forced by the US government to put money into the coffers of a profit hungry company. After all, Google settlement does not compensate the authors of orphan books; so why should Google, and Google alone, be given the opportunity to profit from them?

Google’s concerns for orphan books and their mostly dead authors are heartwarming, but it does not require Google’s help to put them back in circulation. Instead, a universal online copyright registry hosted by the US Copyright Office can be established to identify orphan books. After they are identified as such and the US Congress passes the necessary legislation to strip the copyright protection for orphan books (only for online cost-free distribution), free eBook hubs like Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive can distribute the books. (For more information, see: http://asolutiontoorphanbooks.blogspot.com/ )

Once the orphan book issue is out of the way, the main attraction of the Google settlement to authors and publishers would be that Google would be the one-stop online clearing-house for the distribution of eBooks, as well as for the collection and disbursement of proceeds. Obviously many authors and publishers are willing to forsake potentially more lucrative deals that can be realized once online eBook distribution market develops more fully. But this is shortsighted and frankly stupid, indicative of the lack of visions and talent among the publishing industry executives in replicating on the Web the open, “invisible hand” market that already exists for printed books.

If the key players in publishing industry want to shape their own future, they must not allow outsider like Google to define their future. Hopefully, they will recognize that there are plenty of things that they can do online without the involvement of Google and walk away from the settlement with Google, which is nothing but an attempt by Google to highjack the future of publishing industry and remake it to suit Google’s own convenience and profit.


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