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I’ve been wanting to post about the Sagrada Familia and was hoping today would be the day. Instead, a discussion with my husband has sparked a change of topic.

So, apparently the American Authors Guild’s latest suit against Google Books is demanding $750 per book, for illegal copying and distribution.

This seems absurd to me.

Perhaps this is just a starting point. But my imperfect understanding of litigation (and double that for US litigation) is that you demand what you expect to–or at least hope to–be awarded. And, while the court may not agree, demanding something totally different to what you want is generally not the best plan. So, I’ll have to assume that this is part of the suit, even if doesn’t form the bulk of it.

The very idea of requiring a flat fee per book seems ridiculous to me. Let’s face it: some authors are not going to lose that much in revenue from having their books on Google (indeed, an indie like me might benefit from the exposure!). And some will lose far more. Others will want control, and will not be willing to have their books up there at any price.

So why ask for such a strange and seemingly arbitrary amount that would nonetheless be prohibitive for Google, if awarded?

My husband speculates that perhaps it’s because the Authors Guild just wants to shut down the project.

This is possible. Also: it’s stupid, in my opinion.

Wouldn’t it be better advocacy for the authors you are representing to try to work out an arrangement that actually addresses their needs? And to try to make an arrangement that would continue to address those needs, going forward? Something that makes use of, and takes advantage of, the enormous amount of resources Google has already expended, and the considerable asset they possess, in the form of so many books that have been scanned in–at no cost to the authors who created those books?

Why focus on the “technical” act of copying as the violation, when really, we all know that the issue isn’t about copying at all–it’s about distribution? Why not plug into the distribution side and demand a settlement that helps writers profit from their work in the new digital economy?

For instance:

Provide authors with an easy way of opting in or out for each work. Google is clever. They have figured out email, documents, photos, statistics, blogs and all manner of other complex interwebby setups. Such a mechanism should therefore be a piece o’cake for the innovators in Googleland.

If Google receives revenue from click-throughs (e.g. if they’re displaying snippets, but linking to sellers, who pay them per click through that sells), or if they should decide to become booksellers themselves, then each author who is opted in, can receive a royalty.

Easy, right? And probably better than the Google Books Settlement–certainly, it’s more advantageous to authors (depending of course on the royalty percent and how it’s calculated), and creates the potential for an ongoing revenue stream. It seems to me to be fairer, because it means that rather than paying a flat rate per scan, Google is simply paying a portion of the revenue they’re getting. If they don’t get revenue, they don’t pay.

Who knows? It may be that a mechanism like this is already on the table at the closed-door negotiations that are no doubt taking place as the lawsuit trickles its way through the Byzantine system. And perhaps Google is fighting such a settlement, because the whizzes over there have crunched the numbers and determined that paying the flat fee will ultimately be more profitable.

But I’m hoping, for all our sakes, that the author advocates will wise up and try to figure out ways of working with Google Books, rather than just trying to shut it down.

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