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Updated 3 July 2009

The library of Google ghast?

GOOGLE's settlement with the US Authors' Guild over the web corporation's digitising of whole libraries of books is, unsurprisingly, entering stormy waters.

On 2 July the US Justice department announced a formal "anti-trust" investigation of the settlement - that is, an examination of whether it would create a monopoly: see links below.

On 28 April a judge in New York extended the deadline for authors (and publishers) to opt out of the settlement until 4 September 2009. At the same time there were reports that the US Justice Department was opening an investigation into the possibility that Google's deals with libraries to scan books and make them available online could create a monopoly. Federal judge Denny Chin told the Department of Justice to present its views to the court by 18 September.

Back on 9 September 2008 the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department had "quietly hired one of the nation's best-known litigators, former Walt Disney Co. vice chairman Sanford Litvack" to investigate possible monopolistic problems with Google's dominance of the online advertising industry. This was shortly before a proposed deal between Google and Yahoo! was dropped due to such concerns.

Online advertising is the source of almost all Google's current revenue. The proposed Google Books settlement offers those who hold rights in the text of books between 30 per cent and 40 of income from adverts appearing alongside the scanned books, as well as of income from library licenses and future pay-per-view charges.

The proposed settlement does include all text authors (and publishers) in the countries that are members of the Berne Convention on authors' rights or have an agreement on copyright with the US. The UK and Ireland do belong to Berne; if you live and work in Afghanistan, Angola or a handful of other countries, you need to check.

It does not, however, offer any money to illustrators or photographers whose work appears in the books (unless they're the author of an entire book). Apparently, Google told senior US government officials that the reason photographs were not included is that, given the divisions between US photographers over orphaned works, they didn't know who could speak for photographers - that's what the official told Linda Royles, consultant to the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, and she told the NUJ Photography Matters conference on 18 May.

The deal is not just important for book authors. It could set a precedent for creators of all kinds. The Freelance is talking with some senior people in the music licensing world, who have issues with proposals to compensate musicians for work appearing on YouTube - owned by Google. Google took the same approach with YouTube as with the libraries, going ahead and distributing copyright material without permission and then offering a settlement when challenged in the courts. On 10 March the corporation started taking UK musicians' videos off YouTube, having refused a proposal on compensation from the music collecting society the Performing Rights Society (PRS). Somehow, this was portrayed in many places as musicians being unreasonable.

These musicians' reps tell the Freelance that from their point of view the Google Books settlement proposal is "appalling". One issue is whether Google (or YouTube) is prepared to be transparent about accounting for this revenue share. The European Federation of Journalists' annual conference in Bulgaria in May voted to campaign for transparency in all such deals - but that's a long-term project.

The settlement remains a way for book text authors to extract some money and is being publicised by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.

We will be investigating further and monitoring developments.

Is Microsoft out to get Google?

THE Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP) is a lobby group which is (now) open about being founded by Microsoft. Its Secretariat is at PR agency Burston-Marsteller.

It has held at least one seminar - on Wednesday 17 June in London - to persuade the advertising industry to join it in pursuing Google for (alleged) monopolistic practices in online advertising. Google has at least 80 per cent of this market in the UK.

The top demand is for "transparency" by Google - particularly in accounting of its distribution of revenue for adverts - something which clearly resonates with the EFJ's policy of demanding transparency in accounting for payments to authors.

With what someone will doubtless eventually describe as breathtaking hypocrisy, Microsoft, I mean ICOMP, is also demanding that Google open up its computer software - specifically the key part, which decides what order search results (and ads) appear in; and the part that reports on adverts' performance.

So do Google ads pay?

Members have been discussing the pros and cons of publishing articles on something blog-like and looking for revenue from Google Ads - on the QualityStreet email list for contributors to the papers formerly known as broadsheets. The cons are great, it seems:

I really don't want to piss on anyone's chips, but in my experience getting $100 out of Google Ads for a single piece of writing would require you, somehow, to get somewhere over 100,000 people reading it, while hoping fervently that a minuscule proportion of those 100,000 (say, one half of one percent) actually bother to click on any adverts alongside it.

If you've already got a colossal online audience, Google Ads can provide you with a bit of pocket money. But as far as freelance writers are considered, it's not a money spinner, and certainly not any kind of business model, and anyone who says otherwise just isn't being straight with you.

Posted: 2 Jun 2009; Last modified: 3 Jul 2009 - © 2009 contributors
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