18 December 2009
To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:
I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.
At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.
And now you have sold us down the river.
I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.
So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Since I wrote this letter and posted it on my web site, and since the Authors Guild posted their response to it, I’ve heard from quite a few writers telling me that they agreed with my stance and even that they too had dropped out of the Guild in protest against the “Google Settlement.” There’ve been lots of blog mentions of the letter — some in favor, some neutral, and some parroting disinformation about how Le Guin hates the Web and thinks Google is Evil and was mean to the nice man who violated her copyright. Such stuff is tiresome, but real discussion of the issue is welcome, which is why I posted the letter in the first place.
But it’s the input from other writers that most interests me.
Professional writers of books are the people most vitally interested in the Google Putsch. Our copyrights, our living, are at issue. Yet we’ve let a group of librarians (mostly of academic libraries) and the officers of the Guild (whose intentions are unimpeachable, but whose goals and tactics we may reject) speak for us. Even a thoughtful ally such as Robert Darnton, in The Case for Books and in the NYRB, addresses the interests of libraries more than those of authors.
How, where, can I ask writers who are unhappy with the Settlement to speak up — to stand up and be counted? We don’t have to agree on every detail, but I think there are a lot of us who see it as urgently important to let it be known that writers support the principle of copyright, and want the Copyright Office, the judges, the publishers, and the libraries to know that we intend to keep control of our work, in print or out, printed or electronic, believing that the people who do the work, rather than any corporation, should have the major voice in how it’s used and who profits from it.
The only organisation I know that actively opposes the Settlement is the National Writers Union, from whom I have received steady support and counsel. They hope to put on a meeting about the Google Putsch later this year in the Bay Area. But it’s a small union; and a lot of writers are anti-union or think a union of writers is as plausible as a congress of cats — so as an attention-getting forum, NWU is not the greatest. All the same, at this point, it’s all I’ve got except BVC and my web site.
So, if you’ll give me your name as a professional writer willing to be known as opposed to the Guild Settlement and in favor of protecting copyright and authors’ rights against corporate grabs, I will –
Well, what will I do? Compile a list.
If the list grows to a respectable size, should I post it on my web site?
Would you be willing to let me send your name as part of the list to the NWU so they’d have a list of writers opposed to the Settlement?
Anybody got a better idea? Tell!
Please be very clear whether you want your name and email address to be included on the list. Expressions of solidarity, while appreciated, do not serve as your permission to include your name on the list.
Ursula K. Le Guin is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Visit her BVC Bookshelf to read King Dog: A Screenplay for the Mind’s Eye, Supermouse, and Cat T’ai Chi. Her website is www.ursulakleguin.com, and her most recent novel is Lavinia.