Google settlement: Why I’ve opted out

I was just contacted by someone asking for advice on what she should do regarding the Google Books settlement. I’m no expert but for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve done and why.

I’d welcome comments, corrections or alternative points of view from anyone who might be better informed on some of this stuff that I am.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, I haven’t read the 300+ pages of the document and, despite having read widely about this, I don’t recall having seen a really thorough summary of the deal.

So, here’s what I’ve done and some of the issues or knowledge gaps that have led me down this path.

  1. I’m personally opting out.
  2. Whatever you do, do something because doing nothing is bad. It seems you’ll be deemed to have opted in and will get the “benefits” whether you like it or not. In my opinion, the financial benefits look too small to make a leap into the unknown for.
  3. You will certainly be handing over some non-exclusive rights to Google if you opt in. I’m not familiar with all of the rights you’re handing over (the right to scan and hold the file is a minimum).  And I’m not sure how granular your control over them will be (eg to restrict them from selling, or restrict from viewing, or limit amount viewed, etc). However, as a matter of logic, if you assign some digital rights non-exclusively to Google then you’ll never be able to assign those digital rights exclusively to anyone else later, though you will be able to assign them non-excusively. And you’re handing those rights over for a very long time as far as I know. I don’t think you can cancel once in, only that you can restrict usage.
  4. If Google sells your work, I’m not sure you will have much control over price and terms. eg The sale might for be for a one-time fee, eg libraries and institutional buyers would buy your book outright for a single payment and no further payment – eg a per loan charge – would be needed. This would restrict, and create competition for, your other channels. I personally think this approach — selling digital copies outright to allow their long term, payment-free lending — would be a mistake. I think Google has the potential to distort and devalue the ebook market on a huge scale in the same way that I believe Google has distorted the advertising-driven media market.
  5. If you opt-out of Google selling your book because you want more control over it, I’m not sure what benefit there would be compared to simply using the Google Books Partner Program (terms  here) to scan your book purely for search purposes.
  6. Even if you don’t opt into the class settlement, I’d guess you’ll be able to do business with Google at a future date, possibly on more favourable terms and certainly with the benefit of more time to see how it evolves.

I hope this is of some help. As noted, I haven’t read the agreement or seen any comprehensive summary of its 300pp, so it’s quite possible some of these concerns might be misguided but if I’ve got them I imagine there will be others out there with similar concerns.