I went to my first Author’s Guild meeting this week, the biggest, oldest organization for writers. It was their annual meeting, held in Scandinavia House–a really nice place for lunch, by the way. I’ve been an AG member for a couple of years, but had never gone to a meeting. Timing was right. I had a dentist appointment a few blocks away–oh, chronic dental work, bane of middle age!–and I was glad for the opportunity to meet authors whose work I admire. (Roxana Robinson is president and their board of directors is an impressive lineup of literati.)
What the Author’s Guild is most famous for these days is for suing Google Books. You might think–as I did–that the Author’s Guild is against Google digitizing books. Turns out, they are not against Google digitizing books. They’re against Google digitizing books without any compensation to the authors who wrote them.
Google claims compensation would be too expensive, and even if a fee was agreed upon, authors would be too hard to track down. The Authors Guild argues that this claim is spurious from a company who made $75 billion last year, and has the wherewithal to dispatch trucks to libraries all over the country and cart off over 20 million books to scan.
I was glad to hear that the Author’s Guild isn’t against Google digitizing books. The book I am working on, coming out in September from Red Hen Press, wouldn’t have happened without Google books: an anthology of poems with titles of telegrams, based on a book published in 1853, which I discovered on Twitter. (Hail, technology.)
I’m grateful to Google for preserving that book and others, for making texts available to people like me who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them. But I agree with Author’s Guild VP Richard Russo that Google shouldn’t be allowed to ignore ownership, just because they’re the big kid on the block:
So that’s it? Really? In 2016, you can just call it? You can say mine, and the thing becomes yours?… [Google’s] use of our intellectual property enhances both the quality and value of their search engine, which in turn gives them an advantage over competitors. It’s completely disingenuous for them to argue that their behavior is selfless when it leads directly to an improved bottom line and increases their value as a corporation. (Full text here.)
If you’re a published author, you can join the Author’s Guild here. Dues is pro-rated, based on earnings. The organization makes available a host of services I didn’t know about: legal and contract advice, web services, protection against libel (key to consider before publishing that memoir), seminars, classes, even dental insurance. Plus, I can testify, they do very nice spreads. The reception post-meeting involved more than cheese cubes.