22 September 2009 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 6 comments

Jim EppersonReader Jim Epperson sent me a note about his experience with Google and the reason why he is not a fan of Google’s copyright infringement scheme. After hearing Jim’s story, I asked him to prepare a guest blog post for me for inclusion in this blog. Here’s Jim’s guest blog post:

Eric asked if I would write a guest post about my Google experience. First, some background:

I graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University with a mathematics Ph.D. in 1980, and began my academic career at the University of Georgia. I later moved to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). While I began my career with typical dreams of setting the mathematical world on fire, by the mid-1990s I had come to terms with simply being a good but middling scholar and a fine instructor, tough but fair.

In 1997 I decided to write a textbook. This decision was made for a variety of reasons —dissatisfaction with existing books being a large one—but the prospect of additional income was certainly part of it. For two and a half years, through health crises, the birth of my son, and a career change and associated move to Ann Arbor, I worked on “my baby.” It appeared in the summer of 2001, and a Revised Edition came out in 2007.

Over the years it has brought in a non-trivial amount of money to the family coffers (not as much as I’d hoped, of course) and I am very proud of it as a piece of mathematical exposition. The expected future for the book might be another edition in a few years, then possibly a sale to a publisher like Dover which would keep the title in print at a much reduced price. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, on Friday afternoon, that Google had put my book up as part of its scanning project.

There’s a boatload of ways to react to this. The first is to honestly say that anyone who tried to use the online version of the book for a course (in lieu of purchasing the book) would be an idiot. In the first place, they only scanned in about 85% of the book; while most of the listings in the Table of Contents are active links, some are not. Even if the entire book were there, taking a course based on reading the book online would, IMO, be a recipe for disaster. But college students have tried dumb things before, so I would not doubt that someone, somewhere, will try to save the money that the book would cost, by using the online version as their text. (Given that it retails for $100, this is not surprising.) So Google is not only potentially taking money out of my pocket, they are enticing students to do educationally foolish things. Admittedly, there is an element of pride that my book was considered good enough for this project, although I could do without the ego boost in exchange for the royalties I might lose (and my understanding is they are scanning everything in the Stanford Library).

But, at the bottom, I feel more than a little violated. Almost as soon as I discovered that Google had scanned my book, I contacted my editor at John Wiley & Sons. Today I got a reply from one of her staff, explaining that Wiley had been part of the suit against Google, and so was part of the settlement. Based on her description of things, it appears possible that there might be some cash payment to me for this, although $25 million won’t go very far when split between so many books and authors. I’m not holding my breath…

I’ve got no problem with Google scanning in and uploading books that are public domain. That’s frankly a good idea, IMO. But this business of scanning in books currently under copyright, worst of all textbooks, strikes me as a gross violation of intellectual property rights. I’m surprised that Wiley and the other publishers were not able to find a good enough lawyer to beat Google in this.

I feel Jim’s pain, and I completely understand where he’s coming from. If any of you need any further reasons to oppose Google’s massive copyright infringement scheme and the proposed settlement, I hope that Jim has provided it to you.

Jim, thanks for taking the time to contribute.

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  1. Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 9:39 am

    Having looked over some of the terms of the settlement, I find that I might be eligible for a cash payment (to be split with Wiley, of course) of $60. That’s roughly equivalent to the royalties from selling four books 🙁

    My level of being pissed is rising…

  2. Chuck
    Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 12:28 pm


    Do you own the copyright of your book or does your editor/publisher?
    If you own it, how does the publishers settlement negate your rights as the holder of the copyright?
    Maybe authors themselves should file a suit on behalf of them owning the work…not the publishers..

  3. Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 12:37 pm

    The publisher owns the copyright, so it is all on them. (The language on the appropriate page is “Copyright 2007 by John Wiley & Sons.”) That is fairly standard in text publishing.

  4. Steve Ward
    Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Jim: In other words, the publishers are selling their authors down the river in this settlement. In the long run though, they will take a big hit as they are letting books go to the public domain for a de minimis fee. This is so other worldly from a legal and business perspective, it’s not funny. One of my own concerns is the effect all of this will have on the small, specialized publishers. I have no problem with scanning books in the public domain, but books under copyright – well, that’s a different story. All things being equal, you’d think that the publishers and book sellers would be going to war over this issue.

  5. James F. Epperson
    Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 7:17 pm

    I also do not understand why Wiley et al did not fight this more. It may have been a classic legal/financial decision—the cost of winning the suit was judged to be more than the gain from winning the suit, so why pay the lawyers?

  6. Tue 22nd Sep 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Savas Beatie opted out of the settlement and we have refused to allow the scanning of our titles. This is a giant fraud on publishers and authors.

    Unfortuantely, many important people and companies are rushing to the Google table, like the Washington DC table, armed with the “you are either at the table or on the menu” mentality. Intellectual property laws, just like the US Constitution, can be bypassed if enough people in power say that words don’t really mean what they really mean.

    I have written about this on my blog at http://www.savasbeatie.blogspot.com


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