Le Guin on the Google Settlement

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischMy letter of resignation from the Authors Guild

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.

Yours truly,

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.

Then what?

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!

— UKL

Please comment at “Le Guin on the Google Settlement — Update” or email UKL.

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.


Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula 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.

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Le Guin on the Google Settlement — 218 Comments

  1. I, too, support the battle against Google. It seems that all creative individuals– writers, composers, playwrights, etc, — are vulnerable. We must work together to stop Google if the cultural and intellectual life of the country has any future.
    ASMoffat

  2. Ursula,

    I just sent you an e-mail, as you asked, with my name and my e-mail address. Definitely add me to this list. I oppose the Google Settlement!

    Jackie Dishner
    Author, Backroads & Byways of Arizona

  3. Include me on your list. I oppose the settlement and have opted out. Others should do so if there is still time.

    Note also the potential for piracy if your books are available digitally. See Publisher’s Weekly article on this at http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6714772.html?nid=2286&rid=#CustomerId&source=link
    “FairShare Guardian service monitors the Web for illegally posted content, tracked 913 books in 14 subjects in the final quarter of 2009 and estimated that more than 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded from the 25 sites it tracked”

  4. Ursula,

    I absolutely agree that this hasn’t been properly thought out, and thank you for leading the charge. I am an Author’s Guild member but I’m not happy with this settlement. There is probably a way to do this right, but this isn’t it.
    Please add my name to your list.

    Amanda Cockrell

  5. From the point of view of a reader, I’d love to be able to BUY e-versions of unavailable older titles. I want to encourage authors to try to get back their rights, create or have created electronic versions, and SELL them. I don’t support Google stealing your works and making them available for free. That’s just wrong. Please add my name to the list (if you want, since I’m not an author.)
    Alison M. Hendon

  6. I’m an Authors Guild member, but I opted out of the settlement because the Authors Guild’s stance made no sense to me. I haven’t resigned my membership but now that I no longer get my health insurance through that membership, I may. I have been very disheartened by the organization’s position on this issue and wholeheartedly believe that it is in the wrong.

  7. Please add my name to your list, Ursula.

    I still haven’t heard the Author’s Guild explain just exactly who nominated them to speak for all authors. What arrogance. Selling all authors, especially those not in their precious organizaton, out to benefit themselves–this is the Author’s Guild.

    I am four-square against the Google Settlement. If Google wants to scan books and sell a digital service to libraries, they can certainly afford to send an email to the author, or his or her heirs, for permission.

    M.L. Bushman

  8. This thread has become so long that comments here are closed and another thread has been started:

    Please comment at “Le Guin on the Google Settlement–Update.”

    If you would like to add your name to the list of authors opposing the Google settlement, please be very clear about saying so, or email UKL:

    [email protected].

    Please say whether the list may include your email address. Your website or blog URL is also useful information to include.

    — VNM

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