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Ivor Tossell on the Google settlement

By Christopher Moore | March 27, 2009

Ivor Tossell has some thoughtful coverage of the Google-Authors Guild settlement in today’s Globe & Mail entertainment. As he says:

What we’re looking at here isn’t, at the heart of things, yet another online effort to post free content and pay for it with ads. No, Google is using a somewhat older business model: offering a product, and asking people to pay for it. That marks one sensible retreat from the free-for-all world of tomorrow we’ve been promised all these years.

Ivor only goes thuddingly wrong once in the piece, when he declares copyright-holders were “nonplussed” by Google’s project. Actually, the copyright-holders were years ahead of the web gurus here. They were ready to licence their works to Google (or others); they just wanted to get paid proportionally to the value they were providing. It was clear for years (hell, I wrote about it years ago, and I was not the first) that licencing their content was the point of the authors’ lawsuit. That’s what Google has now conceded.

The only people nonplussed, I’d say, were experts like Lawrence Lessig and Tim Wu, who feared that a licencing deal between Google and rightsholders would undermine their everything-must-be-free-for-the-taking approach to digital content. The “sensible retreat” Ivor hails is what many creators have been promoting all along: access and licensing.

The television analogy seems to be looming larger and larger. When television was “free,” it was mostly that “vast wasteland.” Now people are actually prepared to pay for television, and hey, there’s some good stuff being made and offered. They say things move faster in the digital universe, so maybe we won’t wait fifty years for this one.

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