As a member of RWA, I belong to several of their online chapters--Passionate Ink, for which I am the membership chair, is the erotic romance chapter; Kiss of Death is the mystery chapter; FF&P is the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter and RWAOnline is the first online chapter.
As I've become more and more interested in the Google Print project, I've been anxious to share the information with other writers. We had a very lively discussion on RWAOnline over the last two days. I enjoyed listening to the viewpoints of other members, many of whom had important things to add to the dialogue.
There was a repeating thread of skepticism regarding Google's intentions and statements, which is understandable, given a for-profit company and fears of copyright infringement. I thought I'd mention one of the issues that was raised which is very pertinent to the discussion we've been having here.
Google has repeatedly said that it cannot contact rights-holders because it cannot locate them. One member expressed disbelief since the U.S. Copyright Office does have a database.
The U.S. Copyright Office is one of the most antiquated entities in our government. That database only includes copyrights back to 1978--less than thirty years. In addition, the Copyright office has a link here:
"Catalog of Copyright Entries
The Copyright Office published the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) in printed format from 1891 through 1978. From 1979 through 1982 the CCE was issued in microfiche format. The catalog was divided into parts according to the classes of works registered. Each CCE segment covered all registrations made during a particular period of time. Renewal registrations made from 1979 through 1982 are found in Section 8 of the catalog. Renewals prior to that time were generally listed at the end of the volume containing the class of work to which they pertained.
A number of libraries throughout the United States maintain copies of the Catalog, and this may provide a good starting point if you wish to make a search yourself. There are some cases, however, in which a search of the Catalog alone will not be sufficient to provide the needed information. For example:
Because the Catalog does not include entries for assignments or other recorded documents, it cannot be used for searches involving the ownership of rights.
The Catalog entry contains the essential facts concerning a registration, but it is not a verbatim transcript of the registration record. It does not contain the address of the copyright claimant."
I have heard at least two copyright scholars confirm Google's statement that it would be impossible to locate the rights-holders on all the books in the Google Print Library project.
The Copyright Office says, "when it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of “fair use” would clearly apply to the situation."
At some point, the courts are going to have to decide whether and how fair use applies to Google Print's effort.
In the meantime, I was grateful for the insightful and thoughtful comments expressed by the RWAOnline members who participated in the discussion.