Adler doesn't oppose Google's idea, but suggests some novel (pun intended) approaches to protecting authors' property, such as asking libraries to pay a small fee for every book loaned, and a crusade to stop publishers from declaring books "out of print" -- something rendered obsolete in the age of electronic storage and printing-on-demand.
Here are the salient parts of his new essay on the topic:
People have been telling me for years that authors in general are totally brain dead when it comes to business decisions. I have always denied this accusation, but it appears that the Authors Guild, which purports to represent authors, is pursuing a lawsuit against Google that confirms this general opinion.
In a nutshell, the suit against Google contends that Google's project to digitize whole books and make available snippets in their search engines is a violation of the author's copyright, which endures more than seventy years beyond an author's lifetime. Moreover, the idea behind the suit is that Google makes money on its adjacent advertising and therefore the authors of the material being searched should be compensated for the privilege of viewing their work.
It may provide an opportunity for rediscovery and perhaps income to the heirs of the author since their copyright will last through nearly three generations beyond their lifetime. It is true that this vast data bank of material will be the lure for people seeking to advertise their products or services to people who are eyeballing the data provided free by Google. Dependent on advertising for their revenue stream, they will not sell an author's works but refer them to vendors online. Through Google's free search engine, millions of people throughout the world will be given the opportunity to become aware of an author's books, even if they have been relegated to out of print status which is the fate of more than 80% of published books.
Where is the upside for those authors of books that have been declared out of print by the publishers? For them, at long last, people will have an opportunity to be aware of the author's work, and perhaps enhance or resurrect an author's career path, providing he is still alive and writing. Or it may provide an opportunity for rediscovery and perhaps income to the heirs of the author since their copyright will last through nearly three generations beyond their lifetime.
For those books not declared out of print but not being currently promoted by the publishers, Google's search engines will, at the very least, provide the possibility for a potential customer to view passages of the work in a virtual bookstore and with luck spark an interest in purchasing the book. Is that a downside for an author who still has a book in print, albeit one that is not advertised and not publicized or promoted by the publisher?
Of course, being included in the Google search engine is no guarantee that the book will ever be called up by a click of the keys. But the very fact that it might trumps all possibilities available to authors with books out there collecting dust on library shelves or being sold by second hand dealers which provide no financial benefit at all to the author. The Authors Guild suit wants Google to pay the author a royalty for putting the book into its search engine.
Authors will be a lot better served if they concentrate their resources on other battles.
How about mounting a battle to prevent publishers from declaring books "out-of-print"? It is an antiquated idea that modern technology has made obsolete and it should be done away with. The concept is not the author's friend. Indeed, with digitization it is no longer applicable. Tied to that system is the method of rights reversal, which allows the author to get his rights back from the publisher, the grounds being that their book is no longer a viable income producer and takes up too much warehouse space. The burden for the reversal is on the author who must ask for the return of his rights. How about making such a reversal automatic after a number of years if sales are low? Isn't that a more worthy project than fighting to block a bookie awareness from public view?
Another noble authors cause would be to get libraries to pay authors a fee for each borrowed book. A library buys a book which is read by multiple people without any further compensation to the author than what he is due as a royalty on the sale of a single book. Such fees are paid to the author in some other countries. Why not the United States?
The fact is that the Google Book Search program is good for writers. ... I am hardly naive about the principle behind the idea of copyright. I guard the copyright of my 28 published novels and numerous short stories and plays like Horatio at the bridge. Yet, one can never know how valuable such a copyright will be in the future, although the chances are that, for most authors, it will be of dubious worth.
The inescapable fact is that the digitization of books is an enormous boon to writers. It does not relegate an author's work to a disintegrating commodity on a musty shelf. Adigitizedd book is forever "in print." Indeed, authors should fight for the right to retain their digitization rights, which might be yet another battle plan for the Authors Guild. ... Authors should celebrate Google's plan, not fight it.