Authors who sign up with digitisation
programs run by companies such as Google or Amazon may be
unwittingly sacrificing some of their rights, a media lawyer has
"I wouldn't want to see people giving one company hundreds of
thousands of books and thinking it doesn't matter, when in fact
it does," Adrian Laing, a lawyer specialising in media and
publishing issues, told seminar attendees at the London Book
Google's Google Print and Amazon's Look Inside programs have
caused controversy in the publishing world. While both companies
claim that making books searchable and viewable online can
increase sales, and offer to digitise such texts for free,
publishers and authors have expressed concerns over copyright
violations. The topic has stirred major interest at the Book Fair
-- the largest publishing gathering in the English-speaking world
-- and a series of seminars on Google's program have attracted
"Amazon and Google seem to presume that publishers and
librarians are the ones who have the right to authorise
digitisation," Laing said, adding that that such a view was
likely to be wrong if there were not already specific clauses in
author contracts to cover digitisation rights.
"The right belongs to the copyright owner. The right to
actually scan and store and display the entire work is not
something publishers should presume they have the right to
Google has claimed that its scanning of books is covered under
fair use considerations in copyright law. Laing noted that the
concept of fair use, often discussed in copyright cases, was
largely peculiar to the US, while Europe had a far more limited
'fair dealing' provision. "Copyright for the most part is an
international subject," he said.
Rules relating to translation and typographical rights further
muddied the picture, Laing noted: "Do not presume that because a
work is out of copyright you can do with it what you want."
A common problem in both contracts is that the companies
reserve the right to effectively change any clause, making it
hard for authors and publishers to determine what rights they are
giving up or maintaining. Even if the contracts are cancelled,
disputes could arise over continued use of the digitised files by
either service, Laing said.
"If the contract is terminated, who owns the rights in the
file itself? I'll tell you, it's not you," Laing said. Other
problems with the Google and Amazon schemes were noted as well.
"I judge the quality of a contract by the quality of its
definitions, and Amazon doesn't have any," Laing said.
Laing warned against signing the standard contract offered for
digitisation by either company. "This sort of clause where you
have a moving target, that's just not a fair deal from my
Some larger publishers might be able to get specific clauses
adjusted. "They will need to come down from the mountain and
start talking to people [eventually]," Laing said.