Authors mount opposition to Google's books

Writers of books are preparing to boycott Google’s attempt at building a digital library online, accusing the Web giant of trying to re-write copyright laws.

J K Rowling, Philip Pullman and other British authors have signed a petition headed by American fantasy author Ursula le Guin, which argues that Google's cunning plan would "render copyright essentially meaningless".

Le Guin's petition has been signed by 365 other writers and was delivered to to a US judge on Tuesday.

Google Books plans to carry published works that are out of copyright, plus "snippets" of current titles with the option to pay to read a full copy. Google is offering authors $60 per title on its virtual shelves, plus a share of revenue. Authors are obliged to to opt out of the scheme, rather than opt in. The deadline for opting out was Tuesday.

Google paid $125 million last year to resolve a copyright case with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," to funnel revenue from digital sales to authors and publishers.

The settlement was subsequently limited to books registered with the US Copyright Office by January 5, 2009 or published in Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States.

Le Guin is calling for the US to be exempted from the deal, a move which would render it useless.

The petition here, claims the settlement was negotiated by the Authors Guild "without consultation with any other group of authors or American authors as a whole."

"The Guild cannot and does not speak for all American writers," Le Guin wrote. "Its settlement cannot be seen as reflecting the will or interest of any group but the Guild. We ask that the principle of copyright, which is directly threatened by the settlement, be honored and upheld in the United States," she continued, concluding, "We urge our government and our courts to allow no corporation to circumvent copyright law or dictate the terms of that control."

A Google spokesperson said: "If approved by the court, this settlement stands to unlock access to millions of books in the US while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work."

But Harry Potter author and multi millionaire JK Rowlings' lawyer told the Times, the settlement would "purport to change US and international copyright rules".

Philip Pullman’s agent, wants to know: “Why should we have to do this because Google decided to set something up which is clearly for the benefit of Google?

“Google can’t afford to do it without the support of major authors — they have to come back with a better deal.”

Neither Pullman nor Rowling want their books to appear on the proposed service.