So Google has won in its legal battle to perform wholesale theft of authors’ work, arguing that its digitisation project ‘fell under’ fair use of protected works and that it served the public interest. If it wasn’t so serious, this would be hilariously funny – Google is interested in serving the public interest!
Like everything that has a commercial aim, Google’s “short term public benefit” has a price as does everything that rips off creators, from the pirate dvds or the on-line unofficial films to the sections of writer’s works displayed for free. Somewhere down the line, writers are going to ask themselves why they should go through all the agony of wrestling their ideas into print if they are not going to get paid whenever anybody logs in for a quick free read. Maybe they’ll just stop doing this thing that keeps them awake at night because writers are the same as everyone else – they like a full stomach and a roof over their heads.
Mary Rasenberger, Exec Director of the Authors’ Guild in America thinks this is exactly what will happen. Authors in the USA are already among the most poorly paid citizens. If they cannot make a living in the future, then … “only the independently wealthy or the subsidized will be able to pursue a career in writing and America’s intellectual and artistic soul will be impoverished.” The “price of this short term public benefit might well be the future vitality of American culture …”
This is something that is also of concern in the UK where ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Copyright Society investigation into writers’ earnings found that in the last ten years, the number of full time writers had dropped as had their incomes.
In 2005 40% of writers earned their living from writing but by 2013 this had fallen to 11.5% and their earnings are well below the Living Wage.
Owen Atkinson, Chief Executive of the ALCS, echoes Mary Rasenberger’s words “These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author incomes and the numbers of those writing full time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK.” So it is in all our interests, not just the whingeing writers’ – a creative pool that reflects the diversity across society is healthier in every sense of the word and even the minnows in that pool should be valued as highly as the big fish. Even tiny fees for excerpts of their work that are published on Google can make a difference. Over a year, they all add up, as Google very well knows.
The last word on the subject has to be from the writer, Joanne Harris: “Not everyone can be a high earning, high profile writer but all creators should have the right to be paid for what they do.”