Velo, Rapido | This is about a few different things.
I haven’t been following the Google Books lawsuit and settlement proposal too closely because I don’t often think of myself as a book author. Not in the sense that Google Books or the settlement will impact my livelihood. It hadn’t actually occurred to me that the settlement might impact my freedom. But a press release from the Software Freedom Law Center caught my eye:
Today SFLC filed a letter with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York objecting to the Google Book Search Copyright Class Action Settlement. In the letter, filed on behalf of the FSF and author Karl Fogel, SFLC asks the court to consider the impact of the settlement upon members of the class who have distributed their works under Free licenses.
I’m embarrassed to confess I had been thinking that this lawsuit (You are of course familiar with the lawsuit. Right?) was more academic than all that. I was thinking about what it means that Yahoo, Amazon and Google get to go sit in a darkened room somewhere (an expansive board room with a fine catered lunch, more likely) and rewrite copyright law all by themselves. I wasn’t thinking about freedom.
Organic Internet was published under a Free license. We chose the Creative Commons attribution, share alike license for a simple reason: we wanted the book to be free. Free as in free, not free as in checking. Not free as in Edible Brooklyn. And certainly not free as in “2009 free with one month paid” which is a sign in the window of what appears destined to be a yoga, pilates and meditation studio in Tribeca. (Please, someone, explain?)
Free as in everyone has the freedom to copy and redistribute the book and the essays within it, with or without modifications. For sale, for non-profit use, for distribution as a stocking stuffer at the annual Microsoft holiday party with a big picture of Bill Gates on the cover and a forward about how our goal is to ruin Christmas for everyone in Bellingham. That kind of freedom is practical for a project with five authors because it means that we all own the book. No one of us can stop another from doing anything with the book. We might not be able to stay friends, but that is another story. The attribution, share alike license also means that the incredible crew of collaborators who helped us define, refine and copy edit those essays also own the book. So in many ways our licensing decision was a practical one. The real reason we chose a Free license, however, was that our goal was and is to tell a story and we tell that story best by letting other people pick it up and run with it, as long as they give us credit and continue to share it. There are plenty of other good reasons why authors choose to release work under a range of open licenses (though not a lot of accessible essays about those reasons, sadly).
While the FSF objects to the settlement on other grounds, this letter highlights how the proposed settlement does not contemplate works distributed under the GNU Free Documentation License (the FDL) or the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license (the CC-BY-SA). If the Settlement is approved, Google will be authorized to continue to digitize, sell and partially display books without complying with the “copyleft” and “share alike” license terms which are which are essential to the freedom granted by these licenses.
Translation: the settlement agreement doesn’t say anything about how Google Books must treat copy left work. It doesn’t, for instance, stipulate anything specific about what it means to “include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License” in the context of Google Books.
The letter urges the Court to reject the proposed settlement until these and other objections are addressed, including that terms are incorporated to protect the authors of freely licensed works and a framework is provided for the Book Rights Registry that respects the choice of authors to share their works. The full text of the letter is available here (pdf).
I have the right to share my works, and to decide the terms of so sharing. The settlement, as it turns out, doesn’t require Google Books to publish an intact license with their version of Organic Internet, which means that there is no particular guarantee that readers will be aware that Google Books doesn’t have some kind of special rights to the online edition of the book. That’s cheating. Part of the deal we strike when we release text freely is that you have to let readers know it is free, too. Not just readers who think to check for a license. Everyone. If you get a print copy of the text, the license is right there. If you’ve pulled up just one chapter in Google Books, the license needs to be right there. And, while I can go to Google and ask them to please make sure the license is intact and available to readers, that isn’t what the license says. It doesn’t say “if it isn’t too much trouble” or ““if I ask” it says, “For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.” The small print is even more specific, but it sticks to that theme of “must” as in not “should” or “might choose to.” Must.
I definitely plan to watch the progress of this more closely.