US copyright office fights for international rightsholders. Where were our governments?

The US Register of Copyright has come out swinging against the proposed Google Book settlement, describing it as “fundamentally at odds with the law.”

“By permitting Google to engage in a wide array of new uses of most books in existence the settlement would alter the landscape of copyright law,” said head Marybeth Peters in testimony to a US congressional committee. “That is the role of Congress, not the courts.”

To its credit, the US Register of Copyright submission also went strongly into bat for international rightsholders.

We are troubled by the fact that the proposed settlement implicates so many foreign works even when they have not taken steps to enter the United States market. While it would be appropriate to allow foreign nationals to participate voluntarily in licensing programs that may be developed by the BRR [Book Rights Registry] or other collectives, they should not be automatically included in the terms of the settlement. Moreover, we are aware that some foreign governments have noted the possible impact of the proposed settlement on the exclusive rights of their citizens. Indeed, many foreign works have been digitized by Google and swept into the settlement because one copy was in an academic research library in the United States. As a matter of policy, foreign rights holders should not be swept into a class action settlement unknowingly, and they should retain exclusive control of their U.S. markets.

This is the sort of spirited defense that we’d like to have heard from our own side. While European governments have been vocal, even gaining some concessions from Google to put Europeans on the BRR board, not an official peep has been heard from either the New Zealand or Australian governments on this matter, despite prodding and widespread coverage and concern.

Here’s a link to Peters’ full submission to the US House Judiciary Committee. Thanks to Lynley Hood for the link.

Comments (2)

  1. Bill Bennett

    What concerns me here is when this issue is set alongside the movie industry lobbying over illegal downloads of films and music there appears to be a double standard.

    It seems New Zealand has one law for the big powerful Hollywood corporations – copyright is sacrosanct and we’ll change our legal protection to defend your huge profits. And there’s another law for authors and book publishers – most of whom are individuals with relatively small budgets. Here the government will let a single, large corporation walk all over the copyright law.

    Whatever the reality, this creates an impression big corporations will get what they want from the government. Not encouraging.

  2. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Interesting point, Bill. I think there’s some truth to this but rather than being just a matter of pandering to the big corporations, I think it has more to do with the fact that some of these industries have very well-resourced lobbying and legal operations. Lobbying is an expensive and time-consuming business with a long “sales cycle”. The book publishing industry for one is not in a position to make much noise so the squeaky wheel is always elsewhere. We need to address this somehow but that means serious cash from goodness knows where.

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