Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fair Use

So there's been a tsunami of controversy about the new Google Search the Book program, which allows the contents of books to be searched for key words much like the Internet is searched for key words.

How does it work? Try it for yourself. Visit and do a search for "Konrath." You'll be able to find Whiskey Sour, completely searchable.

The Author's Guild says this violates copyright, and that allowing access to content without a royalty is the same as stealing.

I feel differently.

People read me for free at the library, sell my advance reading copies on Ebay, buy my used books on Amazon, and I don't make a cent from these transactions.

I'm also all for them.

Steal me. Download me. Search inside me. Google my complete text. Infringe me.

Just read me.

I remember when Metallica shut down Napster. Three major things resulted from that.

1. Many other peer to peer sharing networks showed up.
2. Sony began selling copy-protected CDs, which load spyware onto your computer.
3. People hated Metallica, and they lost sales rather than received compensation for their lost royalties.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the band Phish, which encourages fans to trade music freely. Phish fans are happy, and enough money flows Phish's way to make them rich.

Here's the thing--I want to be read. The more people that read me, the better off I am. Some of those freebies will translate into sales. Some won't. But they all add to name recognition, to brand awareness, and to more people knowing who I am and what I write.

I wouldn't want anyone to print up editions of my books without compensating me. But I don't mind being Googleable, even if they make some advertising revenue from my books.


JD Rhoades said...

Maybe I don't understand this whole Googling books thing...but it seems to me there's not a real danger that significant numbers of people are going to be reading the whole book on-line. Hopefully, they'll read enough to know they're interested, then get sick of the hassles of reading it online, then want to go out and get it.

Or do I just not understand the technology?

Peter L. Winkler said...

Dear Joe:

Excellent post. I agree whole heartedly with your feelings.

Russel said...


You *can* make money from library lending, at least in the UK. Not a huge amount but some. There's a whole scheme set up to deal with it.

Personally I can't get through a whole online book. That's why I limit CSS stories to around 4,000 words. That's pretty much what I can handle online. As to whether the availablility of the entire text online devalues a book... that's something we'll have to wait and see...

You should also remember when talking about bands that a good deal of money comes their way from secondary merchandising (of which there is less when it comes to books) and touring. How much does an author make from touring compared to a good band? Not that I would be the Metallica of liertature but I think you have to consider these things.

Anonymous said...

In some ways you're talking about two different things. Yes, I agree with you and the fact that this sort of access only helps you as a commercial artist (probably). The problem is the chipping away of copyright and intellectual property rights. The chipping away that happens undermines the legal basis for copyright, allowing at some future time a smart attorney and a dimwitted Supreme Court to say, "Yes, you're right, there has been overwhelming evidence over time that misuse of the copyright and open access does not undermine the commercial rights of the individual, therefore we will allow that third-party online entities can publish your work without compensation."

And you can see where that might go, right? If it's okay for an e-publisher to offer your work for free, but charge someone to post ads on the site, you get no money, but somebody downloads your work. And the same could then apply to foreign rights, audio versions, etc. It's not a black and white issue. It's a complicated and important legal issue.

Mark Terry

Christa M. Miller said...

I agree with Mark. I would have no problem with free downloads of my work, but for someone else to make money off it, without sending a percentage my way, is not acceptable.

JA Konrath said...

Good point with comparing writing to music. Writers don't make money touring. But they do make money selling supsidiary rights, and the more expose a book gets, the liklier it is to become a movie, TV show, stage play, etc.

Music is also easily available online, and a good percentage of the popluation listen to MP3 and wma files. The music biz has a lot of illegal downloading.

The writing biz, not so much, because as you mentioned, people aren't as comfortable reading narratives online.

I've bought 4 ebooks in my life (because they weren't available in print) and then wound up printing up the books on paper.

If someone wants to Google search my book page by page, then print up their own copy (inkjet is 4 cents a page, so they'd be paying $12 for a $6 paperback) I have no problem with that.

And if downloads are made freely available (without author compensation, funded by advertising dollars--sort of like television)I still think that that will lead to more print sales, rather than less.

I check out a book at the library, then go buy the author's next book. A friend burns a CD for me, and then I go out and buy more of the band's CDs. I download the latest Hollywood release, then I buy it when it comes out on DVD anyway (sometimes more than once, with extra footage and alternate endings).

While a book can exist in many different formats, the printed word has something tangible about it that people enjoy. It's cheap, portable, collectible, permanant, and has perceived value. Downloads haven't reached that point yet.

JA Konrath said...

People make money off your work all the time without you getting a percentage of it.

Selling advance reading copies on ebay. Buying your used books on when new books are on the very same webpage. Four hundred people reading you at the llibrary (in the US) and the author only making $3.00.

Anonymous said...

JA K., thanks for reminding us how vital it is to appeciate the forest behind those trees.

Anonymous said...

I’m a writer, and I think writers should be compensated for their work. But copyright laws have changed throughout time, and it used to be less restrictive. During the last century (and particularly since Disney started making money off its stories) copyright laws have been (in my opinion) too restrictive. For an (admittedly biased) history of copyright law you can view the following presentation by Lawrence Lessig here:

Or you can read the transcript here:

There has to be a balance between compensating the creator and openly sharing stories and information. I totally agree with Joe, and I think we NEED to chip away at copyright laws just a tad. :)

Anonymous said...

Here's a scenario, Joe.

Some Chinese entrepreneur downloads your book for free, then takes it to his brother who runs a copy shop. They print up a thousand copies, slap cheap cover art on it and sell it for $20 U.S. on the streets of Shanghai or Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

scenario continued...

And those thousand copies fall into the hands of a thousand readers, who tell another thousand readers how much they enjoyed it. And one of those thousand readers mentions the story in their blog. Maybe the story is so good that word spreads to America, where your average reader would rather purchase the book at B&N than send out for Chinese (books).

The balance is there, and more people have read the story.

I just don't see a threat here. People worried about consumers having the ability to copy TV shows and movies when the VCR was invented. But VCR's didn't destroy the television or movie industry.

I know a thousand books seems like a lot, but it isn't.

JA Konrath said...

I see your point, Mark.

A few months ago, there was an online e-book download company that was selling books illegally (not compensating the authors or publishers)

When I heard about them, I checked to see if my book was available. It was. My first reaction was, "I'm being pirated! Cool!"

As long as some money trickles my way, I have no problems with others using my work to make a few bucks.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...


Regarding Google, used book sales and ARCs ending up on eBay, I agree with you. The sad fact is that, while the ostensible argument is about protecting copyright the real reason for all the furor is the same one that drove the Sony CD spyware: money. For the producer/publsher, not the author.

Just ask anyone who's been told they had to pay an exorbitant sum to use a half a line from a song in a novel.

Where we do part company is regarding ebook piracy. It's not an issue for you because you're print published. For those whose books are only available as ebooks, having their work offered for free does affect their income, since it derives almost totally from sales.

So, that issue needs to be kept in perspective. As for the rest--my only concern is that if people are allowed to flagrantly ignore copyright it seems no different than if we allowed car dealers to flagrantly ignore speeding laws.

Sure, the manufacturers might make more sales, and buzz may get out about how great a performer a particular model is, but there's still a danger someone is going to decide if it's okay for the dealers it's okay for everybody.

Okay, it's not the world's greatest analogy, but in both instances rules intended to protect someone would become pointless. I think the current copyright laws give the PRODUCERS of covered material far too much regulatory power, but I don't think allowing people to just ignore the rules completely is the answer either.

Anonymous said...

As I commented in my blog yesterday, I've had articles I've written republished without permission. I've also sold writes for which I received zip and those articles appeared for which I also got zip--but somebody did.

I have to make a decision about that, and have.

It's interesting to me that somebody thinks a 1000 novels published in China for which neither Joe or his publisher receives a dime is a good thing. If somebody stole your wallet and you had anywhere from $400 to $3000 in it, and you said, Yeah, but they know me now, is that a good thing? That's a really bizarre approach. It's theft, man.

Saying, yes, the 1000 copies of my novel for which the copyright has been misused, for which I receive nothing, for which my publisher receives nothing, is actually now a MARKETING STRATEGY is a really bizarre way of looking at things. If Joe decided to buy 1000 copies of his book and give them away, or his publisher decided to give them away, that's fine.

But if someone breaks into a bookstore or publisher's warehouse, steals 1000 books and gives them away, you're saying that's still okay?

No. It's not.

Mark Terry

JA Konrath said...

If someone offered to print up and distribute 20,000 copies of my book for free, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

That's not the same arguement as someone printing up copies and selling them without giving me a share, but the essence of my point is, "Get as many copies available as possible."

Because I am in print, and because I don't make my living selling articles or ebooks, I have a different perspective.

If someone were stealing my ebooks and that's the only form they existed in, or if someone was reprinting ym articles without paying for the rights, I'd be angry.

But in my case, the more books in print I have, the better off I am. The more people who learn my name--no matter how they learned it--the better off I am. The more I'm distributed--even as the result of piracy--the better off I am.

I totally understand how this doesn't apply to everyone, or all situation.

Anonymous said...

"It's interesting to me that somebody thinks a 1000 novels published in China for which neither Joe or his publisher receives a dime is a good thing. If somebody stole your wallet and you had anywhere from $400 to $3000 in it, and you said, Yeah, but they know me now, is that a good thing? That's a really bizarre approach. It's theft, man."

A 1000 novels isn't a good thing. I never said that. 2000 novels published in China would be a good thing. If they only do 1000 then they're just not trying very hard.

I'm joking, of course, but the premise is truly how I feel. My message is that there should be a balance, so in the grand scheme of things those thousand copies really are more of a marketing benefit (not a strategy, unless plans were made in advance to intentionally put that process into place).

Bringing up the pure-ebook situation is an interesting case. And the music industry can convincingly show that they've lost money since file sharing became so easy and widespread. So there is a limit to how much theft I personally believe is "reasonable" (and, to be clear, it is theft).

Another side of this issue has to do with natural business cycles. When technology changes then companies (and authors) must also change if they want to make money. The truth is that, no matter what laws are enacted or how people feel, file sharing is out there and it ain't goin' away. Adapt to it rather than putting so much energy into fighting it.

And I want to apologize to Mark. I guess I used your post as an example, and I maybe shouldn't have. And I do see your concerns regarding lost income. All I'm saying is that there are ways to use this situation to your advantage to make MORE money than you were before. Just give it some thought.

Anonymous said...

There's a big difference between what Google is doing and someone running off copies of a book and selling them on the street.

Take Google out of the equation and someone could still illegally distribute your work, either electronically or in print. That's a separate issue.

The question is should Google be allowed to make available limited portions of the text of copyrighted materials for people to search online.

I have no problem with it. Unless someone can demonstrate that the authors are actually being hurt (financially or otherwise) by the program, I only see advantages to it.

While it is possible to do repeated searches to see various pages of a book -- and therefore it's theoretically possible to eventually display every page of the book -- I don't see how there is a legitimate fear that a reader would actually do that, rather than buy the book.

People buy books for a variety of reasons, but I don't believe that the above scenario is a substitute for 99% of them.

Steven said...

I guess the people who would be hardest hit are the textbook publishers - the guys who charge a hundred dollars for a Chemistry book --students would definitely print those out in large numbers.

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting here that I started out saying the problem is the chipping away at copyright protection.

The examples of 1000 books to China is to make a point (and how do you limit it to 1000? Why not 10,000? Is it still okay if somebody prints up 10,000 copies of Joe's book in China and sells them and he, his agent and his publisher don't get a dime? 100,000? Congratulations, you're a bestseller in China. You didn't make a dime (or yuan or whatever), but you sure did sell a lot of copies).

Yes, that same Chinese gent could buy a copy from Amazon, use a high-resolution scanner and scan the book into a computer and do the same thing. And it's still theft.

The problem is where you draw the line and what it does to copyright law. Digital technology has created problems because it's so easy to make copies.

But guys, it's easy to print out $20 bills on digital laser color copiers now, too. That doesn't make it right or legal.

And just so you know, I'm wrapping up an article today called "Storming the Intellectual Property Fortress" that deals with licensing and patents on clinical diagnostics in the biotech industry, so the subject is very much on my mind.

JA Konrath said...

"But guys, it's easy to print out $20 bills on digital laser color copiers now, too."

Whoa...hold the phone. Does that really work?

My god. I'm totally rich.

JA Konrath said...

But seriously, theft is theft. Downloading free songs, movies, or ebooks is theft. Xeroxing copies and selling them is theft.

But that doesn't mean I object to a little theft now and then.

I had an interesting coversation with a writing friend about downloading songs using peer-to-peer (free) networks.

I said that I'm legally entitled to download copies of songs that I already bought on cassette or vinyl. After all--I bought the rights to listen to the song.

He said it is still piracy if you download a song even if you already own the album. He's the lawyer, so he may be right. I just don't agree. And I really don't think the FBI, or the artist, cares.

In that same vein, I don't care if someone downloads me, or distributes some free copies. No one was making a profit off of Napster.

I think Google Print falls under 'fair use.'

Maya Reynolds said...

I'm with Joe. I've spent a bunch of time trying to understand both programs: Google Book Search and the Google Print Library Project. I think both initiatives are more advantageous to authors than disadvantageous.

Google is ahead of the curve on this one, although Yahoo and Microsoft are right behind them (both have joined the new Open Content Alliance announced 10/27).

First, Google Book Search (GBS) is almost identical to's Search Inside. All the books in GBS either have publisher approval OR are in the public domain (printed prior to 1923). There are controls so that the entire book cannot be copied--although I'm sure hackers will soon find a way around those controls. While the COCOA alliance is protesting both Google Book Search and's Search Inside, there are no legal challenges to either program right now because all the books either have publisher-approval or are in the public domain.

The legal challenges by the Authors Guild and the publishers' coalition are targeted toward the Google Print Library Project which is "indexing" books, not making pages of content available online unless they have either publisher-approval or it's in the public domain. By indexing, I mean they are making a few lines of text available so that the reader can decide whether the book is something they're interested in. announced a new initiative on 11/3 to "unbundle" books and sell individual pages at 4 cents a page. On the same day, Random House announced a similar initiative. I wrote about both in my blog on 11/4.

All books will one day be digitized. After 560 years, the book as we know it is a dying art form. I love the feel and smell of a book, but I recognize I will soon become accustomed to reading on a digital reader.

These initiatives can be a good thing--instead of your book spending six weeks on the shelves of a bookstore, before long it will be available for purchase indefinitely through GBS and downloadable technology.

Bring it on.

Anonymous said...

20,000 pirated books? 100,000?

Sure, I'd have one problem with that, but it has nothing to do with copyright infringement. I'd feel the same way about 100,000 copies as I do about 1,000, because if anyone in China feels they'll make money by printing and selling 100,000 forged copies of my book, then my name is JK Rowling (and therefore 100,000 isn't that many).

But I would have a problem with that, just as JK Rowling has a problem with it, because of consumer fraud. Making sub-standard, low-quality books - with possible changes in the story and content - is a big issue to me, but to me that's a consumer fraud issue, not a copyright issue.

Look, in the end each of us has our own opinion. Just do what you feel is right.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I just spent serious time (okay, I spent ten minutes) trying really hard to read Whiskey Sour on the Google Book Search.

It won't let me. I get a certain number of pages, then it tells me I have to 'search again'. Some pages are shield from view entirely.

I have to login to view the book. Google tracks how much I'm viewing of any work that is still in copyright. I had even worse luck with Isabel Allende. There are plenty of books ABOUT Toni Morrison and Laura Esquivel, but not their works. I read part of Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

So...the worst that will happen is I'll read enough of somebody's book to know I don't want to read the rest. What's more likely is that I'll become involved enough in the story to want to buy it or check it out of the library rather than jump through hoops to outwit the Google system to get the book for free. For works no longer copyright protected, Project Gutenberg already offers many of these works for free.

This could be a boon for the authors whose works are out of print. We write our stories for other people to read and enjoy.

This seems like a good thing, but the copyright holder should have the right to be excluded from the Google service. Were you or your publisher asked permission first, Joe?

Maya Reynolds said...

At the risk of being redundant, the Google Book Search (GBS) initiative ONLY includes books which are either in the public domain or for which they have the publisher's permission. In the case of a book still under copyright, the publisher provides the digitized copy to GBS.

GBS is set up so that a keyword search will permit the reader to see the page on which the keyword is found plus two pages in either direction of the keyword. The system is set up to limit the number of searches of any one book a reader can do.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

The online thing doesn't bother me much either. Let's face it, how many people are actually going to sit there and read an entire novel online? Not many. But it may get them interested enough to buy it.

Besides, if I remember correctly, Google will only allow you to read a certain number of pages before you reach your quota for the day. So, again, the chances of anyone reading the whole thing are pretty minimal. If someone is that desperate, so be it.

JA Konrath said...

I believe my publisher allowed it, because when someone searches for "Konrath" a sponsered advertising link for Bloody MAry comes up. I didn't pay for that link, so I'm guessing Hyperion did.

Anonymous said...

"But guys, it's easy to print out $20 bills on digital laser color copiers now, too."

Maybe they'll print up $20 bills, and buy tons of our books with them...