Authors Guild v. Google: A Win for Authors, Researchers, and the Public

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Authors Guild lost the case, but is the same true for its members? In my opinion as an author and writer, the Authors Guild’s position was contrary to the best interest of its members. So when it lost, its members won.

How is the decision a win for authors? As I said in last week’s post, the Goggle books search engine does not substitute for the actual book. If the book seems to be helpful or interesting to the searcher, the searcher will track it down at a library or buy her own copy (assuming it is in print or readily available from second-hand booksellers), and the search results provide purchasing links to make it easy. That should result in more sales rather than less, particularly if the person was previously unaware of the book. And even if the searcher doesn’t purchase a copy or can’t find the book because it is out of print, the mere fact that it came up in a search gets the author’s name out there. As an author, I consider it a win for me.

I’m not alone, either. A number of authors have allowed Google to use more extensive portions of their books. Many think of it as free publicity.

The decision is also a win for researchers, and that includes authors like me who do a lot of research for their own books. If a book looks helpful, I will either purchase it or find it at a library (and increased demand on libraries may create more purchases by them). The search is one way to find things I wouldn’t have even know about otherwise. It can also help me and other researchers rule out books that aren’t helpful, saving valuable time. Even if I knew about the book in advance and now rule it out because of poor writing or apparently shoddy research, that doesn’t translate into a lost sale. If I can’t find out enough about a book, I’m unlikely to risk my time or money on it anyway.

Anything that makes access to information easier also benefits the public. So the public wins, too.

If you look only at the case caption, you might decide that Google won and the Authors Guild lost. And you’d be right.

But the real winners are authors, researchers, and the public.

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