When someone takes your car without your consent, it’s called theft. But when Google digitized millions of books without getting permission from their authors and without paying for copyrighted material, it’s called public service, according to Richard Russo, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Empire Falls.”
“Google has justified this theft by arguing that the use they were making of our property was ‘transformative,’ a public service,” Russo said. The fact that Google makes available only snippets of those copyrighted books and provides them for free is beside the point, wrote Russo in an article titled “Google vs Authors.”
“To us, they’re like those cartoon seagulls in Disney’s ‘Finding Nemo.’ Always on the lookout for scraps, they have a one-word vocabulary: Mine, mine, mine. Ownership has no meaning outside of their insatiable hunger. What they desire is just lying there out in the open, ripe and unguarded. It’s simply not in their natures to consider whether what they covet might actually belong to somebody else,” Russo wrote. The article was originally published on medium.com as a commentary on the case, Authors Guild v. Google.
Russo said in this dispute, it’s not just authors who stand to lose, but all creators. “What we’re witnessing, across the spectrum of the arts, is the redistribution of wealth from the creative sector to the tech sector,” he wrote. “There are a lot of ‘scraps’ lying around and a lot of seagulls anxious to claim them. It’s possible that in the future those of us who make things will be worth less than those who deliver them. Time will tell.”
Russo, author of “Nobody’s Fool” and “Straight Man,” is a council member of the Authors Guild. He won the Pulitzer Prize for “Empire Falls” in 2002.
Authors Guild v. Google
The Authors Guild and a group of individual writers sued Google for copyright infringement in 2005. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Google, holding that the Internet giant’s wholesale copying of millions of copyrighted books to develop its profitable Google Books program was fair use. The Authors Guild has filed a petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Authors Guild (and a Richard Russo fan). “4 Reasons Why I Joined the Authors Guild and Why You Should Too.”