The Reading World

EFF seeking authors concerned about reading privacy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is recruiting authors for a class action intervention in the Google Book Settlement, because the titles offered by Google under the agreement have no protections for the privacy of readers. This is a pressing concern, one the consequences of which were demonstrated by the recent Amazon Orwell debacle, which I discussed here. A book is or, rather, can be used to police the limits of citizens’ thought by linking reading of words with endorsement of the ideas those words represent. Here’s the nut of the EFF challenge:

The agreement has no protections in it for reader privacy or anonymity. None. Neither the Author’s Guild, the publishers nor Google has taken any steps in the context of this landmark agreement for the future of books, to ensure that the fundamental right of readers to privacy and anonymity of their reading habits are preserved. Our goal is to remedy that by asking Google and the others to enter into an enforceable agreement to implement those protections, or if that attempt fails, to ask the court to disapprove the settlement until it has sufficient protections for authors and their readers.

For years, the FBI and other national police forces in other nations have attempted to, and have, collected reading records from bookstores and libraries when seeking nonconformist and radical citizens. What we read becomes a brand of shame used by the police and government, as well as institutions like the church, to justify punishment. If Google’s book search and display technology creates a record of one’s personal reading, it can be subpoenaed. That represents a grave new threat to personal privacy and freedom of thought, for if we cannot explore ideas without becoming wed to them by police judgments of our reading, we can no longer safely explore controversies and decide for ourselves.

If you are a rights holder, consider joining the action.

UPDATE: Inside Google Books blog responded to the EFF call with a privacy-related posting. The Google privacy policy is inadequate in a variety of ways, because it allows Google to build very deep personal portfolios on which it builds ad-placement profiles for individuals. The posting is correct that a library terminal user would not be exposing any data, if they did not log into their own Google Books account, but the fact remains the service will constantly encourage logins in order to provide personalized services and access to one’s own library of books. The company’s data can also be subpoenaed by governments and, in some cases, Google has business agreements in place with governments limiting what information it may display and, conversely, it must be assumed, what information it must share with the government.

Author & Publisher Strategies

Authors Guild starts full-court press for Google agreement

Roy Blout Jr., president of the Authors Guild, has published a plea for support of the Google Books agreement he helped negotiate, arguing that the deal is being held up over fears about a “‘Monopoly’ of Orphans.” He argues that Google’s monopoly on scanned out-of-print books would be only over those books for which the rightsholder cannot be found, and points to the success of the Authors Registry, a non-profit the manages overseas photocopying rights, in finding 80 percent of rightsholders they seek. He signs it, in his signature Blountian way: “Unmonopolistically yours.”

I have problems with the settlement, because it sets a standard in revenue sharing for all books that will eventually be scanned and sold through Google Books that may shave away more of the tiny sliver of revenue currently going to authors when applied to copyrighted works. The math always works against an author, so this agreement should be combined with a move by the Authors Guild to separate e-book and online rights from paper publishing rights systematically, so that authors receive a higher share of online revenue because publishers have substantially lowered cost and risks when taking an author’s work to digital formats.