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Industry News: Google & Publishers Settle, Authors Object; Ability to Resell Goods in Peril; HC Accepts Unagented SciFi/Fantasy Submissions

October 13, 2012

Google, Publishers Settle; Writers’ Groups Call For Investigation of Terms

Last week, Google and the American Association of Publishers settled a seven-year-old lawsuit involving scanning books. According to the information released last week, the deal doesn’t resolve any of the legal issues. Authors must still opt out of the program, meaning that unless they notify Google that they choose not to participate, their works may be scanned by Google. The two sides notified Judge Denny Chin more than a year ago that such a deal was in the works. The deal applies only to orphan works, that is books for which an owner cannot be determined. Google has already scanned many of the works, and will make the digital copies available to publishers. But the publishers will be required to resolve their own legal issues before publishing electronic copies.

The legal issues are not over, though. The Authors Guild still has an active lawsuit over the arrangement, and now three groups have asked for the terms of the agreement to be made public. The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are asking the Department of Justice to disclose the confidential terms of the deal to assure there are no anti-trust issues. The debate is over terms for books published before electronic rights were included in contracts. The authors groups content that those rights reside with the authors, not with Google or the publishers.

In other related news. a federal judge has dismissed one of the suits brought by the Author’s Guild against HathiTrust, an organization created by research libraries. The suit alleged that HathiTrust’s scanning program was copyright infringement, but Judge Harold Baer dismissed the case, saying that the unauthorized scanning was fair use. The case is considered a parallel action to AG’s suit against Google.

What this means to you: It probably doesn’t directly affect you. Although the legal terms are murky (and secret), if you have a current contract that includes digital rights, your rights are dealt with. However, the ongoing legal fight continues to force the evolution of intellectual property laws to suit the digital age.

First Sale Doctrine on Supreme Court Docket

Your ability to resell used goods, including books, may be up for review in this year’s Supreme Court agenda. The court has agreed to hear Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. The case covers resale rights on any goods that are manufactured abroad, and that could include smart phones, furniture, and even used books. A US appellate court has determined that current law does not give owners the rights to resell goods made outside the US. If the Supreme Court does not strike down the appeals court, manufacturers would be required to give permission for resale after the first sale. Those terms could affect used book stores and libraries, among others. The American Library Association has filed a friend of the court brief opposing the appellate decision. The decision stems from the case of a Cornell University student who bought textbooks in his native Thailand and resold them used on e-Bay, making about $1.2 million in the process.

What this means to you: You don’t want to take the same major as Mr. Kirtsaeng. Aside from this, your ability to resell goods, including books, at anything from flea markets to garage sales to used book stores could become more complicated. If the case is upheld, for published authors, it would mean a wrinkle in most standard contracts. If you are the author of a work and your contract does not cover sales after the first one, what money–if any–are you entitled to? If you’re an intellectual property lawyer, this case could mean years of job security.

HarperCollins’ SciFi and Fantasy Imprint Accepting Unagented Submissions Through Tomorrow

Sorry for the late notice, but Harper Voyager, HarperCollins’ science fiction and fantasy imprint, is accepting unagented submissions of complete novels though tomorrow (October 14). As part of the program, which started October 1, editors in the US, UK, and Australia will jointly select any qualifying manuscripts. According to the press release, Voyager is particularly seeking manuscripts in the areas of epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia, and supernatural.

What this means to you: If you have a novel in any of those areas, go here and get it submitted.


  1. October 13, 2012 8:52 am

    Chris, Thanks for keeping us informed. The “What this means to you:” summary is the best…just saying

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    October 13, 2012 8:36 pm

    Thanks, Claudia!

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