Google vs. You and Me

We've all heard about the Google settlement last week. To sum it up in one sentence: The huge corporate entity Google opted for the little guy. It had intended to digitalize every available book, whether or not the author and publisher wanted it. Their argument? They were doing it in order to serve the reader. After the case was over and done, Google ended up winning the right to do that exactly (which is good, in a sense, for the little guy), but managed to work out a way to give authors a cut of the profits (which is good for the guys who are even littler than little). In other words: Readers and writers -- both little -- will profit. Not to mention publishers.

In short, everybody wins.

Okay. Good enough. But that's the business story. What about how it played out in human terms?

Over the weekend, I got in touch with two driving personalities in the legal battle -- Paul Dickson and Joe Goulden, both authors, both alpha types, both residents of Washington D.C., both members of Washington Independent Writers -- and this is what they told me.

How did it start? "Google had listed several of my books in their entirety," said Paul Dickson, "and I was angry and went to the Author's Guild. One of the books was one I had co-authored with Joe, which, I think, brought him on board." And so the skirmish began. It was September, 2005. And the thought of a huge corporate entity profiting from a writer's hard work rankled. So, in other words, it all began with two disgruntled guys.

Paul Dickson, author of "The Hidden Language of Baseball" and "Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms." (

How did the fact that both were authors help them? A lot, says Dickson. "My son sent out an e-mail the other day saying 'It looks like my old man is the Lars Ulrich of book publishing' -- that's a bit overstated, but nice." Not overstated, really. An artist going up against a Gargantuan machine is not a bad publicity move. (Lest you forget, Ulrich was the Metallica rock 'n roller who led the fight against Napster when Napster decided to give away music, against the wishes of writers and performers.)

Unwilling to be fleeced, too, was Dickson's partner, Joe Goulden, author of 18 books, who told me: "Twice now in my career I've been ripped off by authors who plagiarized me and had to pay out of court settlements. My agent of long standing, Carl Brandt, makes it a policy to wage a strong defense. Once you let one writer rip you off, you are leaving yourself open." In other words: Take what's mine, and you'll pay twice. Once for the offense, once for the merchandise.

Joseph Goulden, author of "The Superlawyers" and "Korea: The Untold Story of the War." (

It sounds fair to me.

How does this settlement affect the industry? "It helps us all," says Dickson, "even writers with out of print books. They can sell access to those works with royalties collected by Google and monitored by a new writers' registry funded by Google."

To sum it all up, as Dickson says: "This suit began in anger but, in the end, everyone benefits. It's a great day for writers and, by extension, readers who will now be able to download books, albeit for a fee."

Perhaps you, like me, imagined that this was a bloodless affair played out between two modern-day institutions. In truth, it turns out to have been an old story: A couple of Davids went up against Goliath. The Davids won. But so did Goliath. Not to mention the Israelites and Philistines, too.

-- Marie Arana

By Marie Arana |  November 3, 2008; 10:39 AM ET Marie Arana
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Thank you for clarifying what will actually come out of this. Your comments were very helpful.

It took me quite a while to navigate through the new system for leaving comments. Perhaps that is why there have been so few comments lately.

Posted by: Elaine10 | November 4, 2008 11:44 AM

Thank you for clarifying what the actual results of the ruling. It was very helpful.

I took me quite a while to navigate my way through the new system for leaving comments. Perhaps this is why there have been so few comments lately.

Posted by: Elaine10 | November 4, 2008 11:47 AM

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