Another Google Grab

First, Happy Bloomsday!

The great god Google seems determined to steal from every creative person who walks this earth. I wrote in “Google’s Digital Grab” on Feb. 3 and 5 about its effort to digitize all the books in creation. After howls of protest, the ravening techno-horde backed off and decided to limit itself to “orphan” works and material with expired copyrights. The proposed “agreement” between publishers, the Authors Guild and “do no evil” seems awfully one-sided in Google’s favor. Thank goodness Eric Holder and Co. are on the case.

Now the techno maw is after graphic artists. When Google came calling (its spawn don’t use email?), illustrator Gary Taxali was of course flattered that the company wanted to use his work. He told the New York Times that he asked “What’s the fee?” The answer came back “Nothing.” So Taxali declined and posted a blog entry on Drawger (which seems to have been deleted.) But it can be found here and here.

“Don’t Call Me,” illustrated with universal sign language, complains about companies that insist on using artists’ work gratis.

The piece in yesterday’s Times has drawn supportive comments from illustrators who declined Google’s offer, and one confession from someone who agreed to the use of two pieces from his stock collection, now regrets it and withdrew permission. His comments sparked an ad hominem attack, but the artists who posted otherwise seemed to be in solidarity. And the rest of the world is taking notice. Taxali put up a link to this article.

I will probably never understand why the world expects artists to give away their product. After all no one would ask a plumber, or a grocer, or a landscaper to work gratis – unless they’re Arianna Huffington. My mother battled the same kind of problem, pre-digital age,  throughout her writing life. She complained that the Hartford public school system had copied all of her novella “Miss Muriel” for its students. And an editor, who should have known better, published another of her stories in an anthology without permission. That’s happened again recently with another story, and I’m still trying to figure out how to seek payment. Mother and I both saw pirated copies of Harriet Tubman. And I was dismayed to find that students were using a Xeroxed copy of “In Darkness and Confusion” for a class at another university.

Mother was also asked to speak without a fee or even reimbursement for expenses at colleges and universities where the athletic departments could spend millions on facilities and salaries but the arts received virtually no money. I should note that other schools happily paid her a substantial fee, plus travel expenses.

At least G. asked the artists before grabbing. It violated my mom’s copyright. Its little bots seized pieces of a couple of her novels. When I contacted the company the reply was “We don’t do that.” When I sent the link showing that the grab had happened, the reply was “Ooops.” The offending links came down after a few more contacts. Hounding thieves is not how I want to spend my time, but it’s what she would have wanted. They’ve only done a “limited preview of my first book,” and nothing on the second, so far.

I’m not sure how to respond to the overall failure to pay. But solidarity will make it tougher for the Googles of the world to rip off creative folk.

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