Copyright Showdown in Federal Court

I’ve been thinking (as has everyone else) that we need a copyright law reform in the US. Copyright law has not been touched by Congress since 1998 and things have changed a bit since then. Right now, there is a showdown between Google and several publishers over the Google Books service. Friend of the court briefs and such were all due January 28, 2010 and the federal court (Judge Danny Chin in Manhattan) is scheduled to hear arguments on February 18. Google is hoping to settle with the publishers on a class action basis which would allow them to electronically reproduce up to 20% of a book online in Google Books and allow them to post “orphan” books. Orphan books are technically under copyright, but have no copyright owner (since the author is deceased and the publisher has gone out of business). Google is gaga over orphan books because it sees them as tons of free exclusive online content. Reproducing these books online would let them post ads next to them and rake in cash on clicks.

A bunch of people have weighed in on the grandiose case since it affects pretty much everyone who either reads or writes. There is tons to read on the case. Here are the places to look:

A lot of folks are terrified that this big Google settlement will kill creativity by making it unprofitable (this is from the writer side of things). A lot of other people are scared that the settlement will force all electronic content to be constantly “metered” so that every book is “licensed” to you as you pay for it page-by-page. Google is frightened because if they lose, they could be liable for up to $3.6 trillion in copyright infringement! There is a lot at stake in this settlement and I must say that I hope Congress will weigh in at some point soon and do a copyright law overhaul. Don’t hold your breath.

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