Saturday, May 30, 2009

Farmer Cal's Geese

Once upon a time there was a wonderful farm by the sparkling sea. The sun was gentle, the mountains nearby were beautiful, the beaches were warm and the geese who lived on the farm were very happy.

True, farmer Cal took an egg from most of the geese once a year. From those who didn't lay eggs he took nothing, but from quite a few he took a golden egg.

But that was okay because Cal sold the eggs and used the money to keep the farm tidy and the water running, and he kept a little for himself, but that didn't bother the geese because he did a good job and deserved to be paid for his work and the geese got to keep most of what they made.

But farmer Cal grew old and died, and his children took over the farm. They looked enviously at the geese who laid the golden eggs, and came up with a plan.

"Oh geese," they said. "It is not right that some of you live in poor twig nests. We will collect a few more golden eggs and provide better things for the poor among you."

"Yes!" said the poor geese.

"That sounds good," said the geese who laid the golden eggs. "We're willing to give more so everybody can have nice things." But two or three grumbled that if they wanted to help poor geese, they didn't need Cal's children to help them.

So farmer Cal's children collected more golden eggs and built themselves very nice houses, and spent part of the money to help the poor geese.

And everything was still fine on Cal's farm.

But soon Cal's children wanted more, so they said, "Oh geese, some among you still are poorer than the others, so we will take a few more golden eggs and use them to help the poor.

"Yes!" said the poorer geese.

"Well... I guess." said the golden geese.

So Cal's children took more golden eggs and bought themselves Mercedes and spent part of the money to help the poor geese.

Some of the golden geese began to grumble, and some flew away to neighboring farms and some decided to retire from the golden egg business since they didn't get to keep as much as before. But most kept working and stayed. After all, they did want to be kind to the poor, and besides, the weather was still very nice and the mountains and sea were still beautiful.

Soon Cal's kids found they were not collecting as many golden eggs as before since some of the golden geese had left and some had retired and very few of the younger geese wanted to get into the golden egg business - at least not on Cal's farm.

And so Cal's children came to the geese once again:

"Oh geese," they said, "the supply of golden eggs is down and the poor among you are suffering! We will have to take more golden eggs to continue helping them."

"Yes!" said the poorer geese.

"No!" said the golden geese.

But now there were many more poor geese than golden geese, and so the objections of the golden geese were lost in the roar of approval.

But soon, when farmer Cal's kids came to get more golden eggs, they didn't find as many as before because many of the golden geese had left, and those who stayed had decided to get out of the golden egg business.

And with so few golden eggs Cal's children barely had enough eggs to pay for the gas and insurance for their Mercedes and for heating their swimming pools, so there was almost nothing left over for the poor geese.

So Farmer Cal's children went to the geese and said: "Oh geese, you can see for yourselves how greedy the golden geese are! They want to keep all the eggs for themselves! They don't care about the poor."

"Yeah!" said the poor geese, and they spat on the few golden geese that were left.

And the golden geese said nothing. They just flew off to a neighboring farm.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Google Book Deal

This is a little bit dated, but a while ago I was asked to give my thoughts for a small missions books publisher about the recent Google book settlement. (As background, Google was sued for copyright violations by a consortium of book publishers because it has been scanning and making available online portions of books, or complete books.) I'm not a lawyer, so don't take this as having any legal weight, but here are a few wild speculations that might be interesting:

One big problem in the publishing industry is trying to figure out who owns the copyright to what. There must be tens of thousands of copyright owners, and companies that own copyrights are started and go out of business with great regularity, and people die, and who owns the rights to what is often very mysterious. Google wanted to digitize all the books and publications it can get its hands on, but tracking down all the copyright holders to get permission from each one would have been a continuing nightmare.

So - and this may be my imagination, but I'm tempted to see a grand design by Google - Google executes this plan:

First, it does something that some would say is of dubious legality by digitizing in-copyright publications. This, of course, ticked-off the copyright owners, who generally have no more cohesion than a herd of cats, and forced them to band together to fight for their interests.

Ah-ha! Google has now forced its legal opponents to form a single, unified group. Now Google only has one organization to bargain with instead of tens of thousands of mostly-unknown copyright holders. Nightmare solved!

Google then seals a deal with the copyright-holders group, thereby covering itself legally and opening new business possibilities (such as putting ads on the pages of the digitized books). But since the basic legal issue (whether Google was within the law by digitizing the books) remains undecided, this would appear to mean that any competitors who want to copy Google's digitizing plan will have to overcome these legal hurdles on their own.

Also, and I think most importantly for society and the publishing industry, the deal creates an independent, nonprofit organization tentatively called "The Registry," which will represent copyright holders in their relations with Google. The Registry is being given the task (among other things) of keeping track of the contact information for the rights owners and doing business deals for their benefit with Google.

Wow! This registry could be a very positive thing. It could facilitate publishers and authors contacting copyright holders to obtain permission to excerpt or reprint their works. Wedded to the Internet, it could be the basis for a "Permissions Marketplace," where copyright holders could offer a license to their works for sale at whatever price they choose. People could simply pay the price online and use the material without any further fuss. I think this could be a big boon to publishers in general.