Ursula K. Le Guin to Google: Hands off my books!

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

In Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, a child is told that he can't have a sunbeam of his own. "It is to share," a matron says, "If you will not share it, you cannot use it." Yesterday, Le Guin and 367 other authors sent Google their own message about sharing, by preparing a petition opposing the legal settlement that would allow Google to scan, display and sell electronic versions of millions of books without prior permission of the copyright holders.

Le Guin's petition, available at http://ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html explains that "we cannot have free and open dissemination of information and literature unless the use of written material continues to be controlled by those who write it or own legitimate right in it" and decries the settlement reached last year between Google and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. "The Guild cannot and does not speak for all American writers. Its settlement cannot be seen as reflecting the will or interest of any group but the Guild," the petition claims.

Signers of the petition include Kim Stanley Robinson, Jane Yolen, Mercedes Lackey and other sci-fi and fantasy luminaries. But not every author opposes the settlement. The AFP reports that Authors Guild members "Wally Lamb, Simon Winchester, Beverly Cleary, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Garrison Keillor and Elmore Leonard" support the settlement, which allows authors to "opt in" and thus display their work via Google in a variety of ways, or "opt out," which means that Google cannot display scans of author books. For Le Guin and her supporters, this isn't sharing, it's taking. "Google, like any other publisher or entity, should be required to obtain permission from the owner to purchase or use copyrighted material, item by item."

The petition, which requests that the United States be exempted from the settlement, has already been submitted to Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court: Southern District of New York, so new names can no longer be added to it. The settlement, which was recently revised to exclude many books first published in Europe, is scheduled for review by the court on Feb. 18. Opponents of the settlement have until Jan. 28 to submit objections.

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