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Free Software Foundation files objection to Google Book Search settlement

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Sep 08, 2009 02:43 PM

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Tuesday, September 8, 2009 -- Today the Free Software Foundation (FSF) filed an objection in court to the proposed Google Book Search settlement (The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc.). The objection urges the court to reject the proposed settlement unless it incorporates terms that better address the needs of authors using free licenses like the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), and does not provide special competitive advantages to Google.

The GFDL is a copyright license that authors use for their works when they believe others should have the freedom to share and improve those works. It was designed primarily for use with technical documentation, but has been used for many different kinds of written works -- from print biographies to Wikipedia articles. Whereas copyright is normally used to prohibit others from distributing works, the GFDL encourages this, with the requirement that any such redistribution must also be under its pro-sharing terms.

But under the proposed settlement, works released under the GFDL and similar licenses are lumped in with works under full restrictive copyright. Google would therefore be given permission to display and distribute these works without abiding by the requirement to pass the freedoms guaranteed under the GFDL on to Google Books readers.

"The Google Book Search settlement assumes that authors are only interested in being paid for publication rights of their works," explained Brett Smith, license compliance engineer at the FSF. "However, authors using free licenses, like the GFDL and the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, have made it clear that they want to ensure that everyone can share and change their work. These licenses already give Google permission to display and publish the works. This settlement offers the company an escape clause to take works that have been permanently dedicated to a commons out of that commons, undermining both the purpose of these licenses and the wishes of the authors who use them."

The objection states, "The settlement attempts to balance the various commercial interests in the publication and distribution of books but in doing so it ignores those concerned more with freedom than with the ability to earn profits through Google's commercial ventures. When freely licensed books are distributed without regard for their terms, authors, publishers and readers are all harmed and the community's unifying values are undermined. This harm cannot be adequately quantified or compensated or otherwise addressed in a royalty arrangement."

The full text of the objection, prepared by the Software Freedom Law Center on the FSF's behalf, is available online at http://www.fsf.org/licensing/google-book-search-objection.pdf. The full text of the GFDL is at http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/fdl.html.

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About Free Software and Open Source

The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.

Media Contacts

Brett Smith
License Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942 x18
brett@fsf.org

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