Tuesday, September 29, 2009

As Borders announce further closures, Google show their true colours

There are several stories of interest worth blogging about today, the first of which concerns Borders, who have announced their intention to sell the remaining Books Etc and Borders Express Stores, thus removing these brands entirely from the High Street. The move, which I am sure has gone down with the staff like a lead balloon, is not totally unexpected, as in the words of Independent journalist James Thompson, "Books Etc has been a financial millstone around the neck of Borders UK for a number of years".

The company, which has 36 remaining Borders stores, came close to collapse earlier in the summer, when it was rescued at the 11th hour by a management buyout headed by Philip Downer, Chief Executive. He is a braver man that I would be!

The company is also said to be negotiating with landlords to restructure or reduce the leases on some of the remaining Borders stores, one of which is believed to be Briggate in Leeds. There are however no plans for further closures.

In the meantime, the Google debacle continues on, with French publishing group La Martinière the first publisher worldwide to sue Google in court. The publisher, which is backed by the French publishers association Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE) and the French Writers Union, Syndicat des Gens de Lettres, (SGDL), is seeking damages of 15 million Euros (£13.8 million) for books digitised by Google without permission. In addition to this, they are seeking a further penalty of 100,000 Euros per day with 3 million Euros for "prejudice to their image". The trial, which opened in Paris on 24th September is expected to last until 18th December at the latest.

What really takes the biscuit for me are comments made by Google lawyer Alexandra Neri, who argued that the French court was not competent to rule on this case, since the books were digitised in the United States. "What Google does" she said "is absolutely legal." "We have never denied that Seuil holds the copyright on printed works, but it has never proved that it holds the right on digital versions of the works."

For a qualified lawyer to show such ignorance of copyright law is to me breathtaking, quite apart from her other comments regarding where the digitisation took place. Surely copyright is copyright, no matter what form the words are printed in - they could be tattooed on her backside for all I care, the fact is that if Google did not write or pay for the rights to publish these works, then they have no right to digitise any of them. It may be true that the author did not assign digital rights to La Martinière since e-books are a relatively new development, but one thing's for sure - they were not assigned to Google, and I personally would suggest that until such rights are assigned to the publisher or to anyone else for that matter, they have to be regarded as resting fairly and squarely with the author. These comments to my mind show once again how breathtaking arrogant this company has become with its dealings with authors outside the US, they are fighting now for dear life to hold on to what little remains of a settlement that is effectively dead, and a reputation which is not much better.

Still e-books are not all bad, if placed in the right hands, they can open a whole new market for the self published and independent authors, and help to level the playing field by potentially cutting out most of the middle men who demand an ever larger slice of our hard earned cash.

Smashwords which was founded in 2008, announced a partnership with Sony, whereby its books will be available to buy direct from the Sony e-book store to be downloaded on to Sony reading devices. They are not the only company to do this, since Author Solutions have also signed an agreement. Smashwords have also announced a distribution agreement with Lexcyle, to allow their books to be read by users of Stanza, an iPhone eBook-reading device with 2 million users.