Dog-Eared and Dispatched: November 17, 2013It’s all about public vs. private interests in this week’s wild world of book culture, literary citizens. We begin by taking a look at what the literary community has to say about Amazon’s new partnership with the U.S. Postal Service. Next, we review the conclusion to the nearly decade-long copyright battle between the Authors Guild and Google Books. Lastly, we look into the growing tension between RoyaltyShare founder Bob Kohn and District Judge Denise Cote as Kohn continues to push for the court to investigate Amazon’s e-book pricing practices.
Perhaps the most popular bit of news this week, Amazon has announced that they’ll be teaming up with the U.S. Postal Service to implement free Sunday package deliveries to Amazon Prime members (non-Prime members will also be eligible for this service, though at the standard shipping rate). This delivery service will launch first in Los Angeles, New York City, and London , with Amazon planning to expand this service to include such cities as Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Phoenix by 2014. ” If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can order a backpack for your child on Friday and be packing it for them Sunday night,” Amazon’s Worldwide Operations and Customer Service Vice President Dan Clark stated. “We’re excited that now every day is an Amazon delivery day and we know our Prime members, who voraciously shop on Amazon, will love the additional convenience they will experience as part of this new service.” In an article titled “Amazon is Closer Than Ever to Running the U.S. Postal Service ,” Wired reporter Marcus Wohlsen noted that “the weirder aspect [of this partnership] is the way a single for-profit company seems to have deputized a government agency to serve its particular private interest . . . the Postal Service for now remains a public utility. If it takes a private company to save it, it’s hard to see it as public anymore.” Fortune writer Dan Mitchell conveyed similar sentiments regarding this collaboration, stating, “Why does Amazon’s new deal with the U.S. Postal Service to provide Sunday deliveries to Amazon Prime customers seem so unsettling? I can think of three reasons: the exclusivity (we’ll get mail on Sundays, but only mail from Amazon); the dynamic of a private enterprise hiring out a government agency as a contractor; and the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal put it , the deal is a ‘marriage of one of the country’s most successful enterprises with one of its most troubled.'” [Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, Wired, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal]
On Thursday, November 14, Google became the official victor of the copyright lawsuit filed against them by the Authors Guild eight years ago. In his written verdict , Judge Denny Chin not only dismissed the Guild’s claims that Google’s library book scanning project equated copyright infringement, but endorsed Google’s program while reprimanding the Authors Guild. In the conclusion to his write-up, Chin wrote that Google Books “has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.” Naturally, Google representatives and library groups across the U.S.—including the American Library Association —are quite pleased with the results. Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken has made it clear that the Guild plans to appeal . “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court,” Aiken said. “Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.” The Guild’s call for appeal may be hindered by the court’s upcoming ruling regarding a parallel case filed by the group, however. As with the copyright lawsuit, the courts have yet to side with the Authors Guild in relation to this secondary case, wherein the Guild has brought charges against specific members of Google’s library book scanning project. [Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, Reuters]
RoyaltyShare founder Bob Kohn’s attempt to launch a review of Amazon’s e-book pricing practices was shot down by Judge Denise Cote sans explanation this week. Throughout the Apple vs. DOJ lawsuit, Kohn has sounded like a broken record regarding the necessity of addressing Amazon’s “below marginal-cost [e-book] pricing practices.” Cote repeatedly denied this request during the case, including a written statement in her July 10 ruling: “This trial has not been the occasion to decide whether Amazon’s choice to sell NYT Bestsellers or other New Releases as loss leaders was an unfair trade practice or in any other way a violation of law. If it was, however, the remedy for illegal conduct is a complaint lodged with the proper law enforcement offices or a civil suit or both. Another company’s alleged violation of antitrust laws is not an excuse for engaging in your own violations of law.” Kohn told Publishers Weekly that Cote’s most recent “one-word” refusal has critical implications. “Perhaps I’ve raised issues she would rather not confront,” he stated. “I look forward to seeing Judge Cote in court on December 6, 2013. She has denied me a hearing in each of the previous settlements, but this time, under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs class action lawsuits, she is compelled to hold a hearing.” [Publishers Weekly]