Information giant Google is doing evil to their property, a growing number of Canadian writers claim in a petition urging a New York court to reject a controversial deal giving the company free rein to digitize the world's books.
Acting independently of the Writers' Union of Canada, more than 250 writers from across the country have so far signed the petition, which includes a call for the federal government to speak on behalf of Canadians potentially bound unwillingly by the terms of a legal settlement achieved in a U.S. court.
Authors Wayson Choy, Heather Robertson, Ann Ireland, Susan Crean, Keith Maillard, Silver Donald Cameron, Ron Smith, Graeme Gibson, Anne Cameron and Marilyn Bowering are among those who joined the call to reject what the petition describes as "an assault on international copyright law" staged for the benefit of a "predatory corporation."
The Canadians are the latest in a growing number of non-U.S. groups, individuals and national governments to demand exemption from the all-embracing deal, which would allow Google to distribute digital books according to terms negotiated with New York publishers and the U.S. Authors' Guild.
"The governments of France and Germany protested that illegal digitization of books amounted to theft of a cultural heritage," the petition states. "We agree, and believe that Canada's heritage of cultural nationalism should be applied to the Google settlement. All of continental Europe is now exempt, and so should Canada be."
The group is hoping the petition will become the basis of an official intervention in the upcoming hearing, which is scheduled to take place in New York on Feb. 18. Although Google satisfied some objectors this fall by offering improvements to the original proposed settlement, many others remain adamantly opposed and have filed briefs with the court.
They include the U.S. National Writers Union, which is leading opposition to the settlement, and such acclaimed authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, who resigned from the Authors Guild last week, claiming its consent to the deal "sold us down the river."
Petition organizer and playwright David Bolt, literary executor of late playwright Carol Bolt, said the Canadian writers decided to speak out in part because the Writers' Union of Canada declined to take an official position on the settlement.
"They tried to work it from the inside," he said, adding that the WUC achieved some success in achieving better terms for Canadian writers in the revised settlement. "But we thought we should go further and try to get the settlement rejected altogether."
WUC chair Erna Paris, author of The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America, said the group has maintained its objections to two aspects of the settlement without taking a position on whether or not it should be rejected by the court.
One issue concerns the fate of so-called "orphan works" with no known rights holders, according to Paris. Another is permission the deal gives for libraries to gain access to digital books for free, something they are currently required to pay for in Canada.
"That really sticks in our craw because we think it could have copyright implications in Canada," Paris said.
On the other hand, she added, writers who opt out of the settlement will forego revenue from digital sales and potentially lose control of their work. "If anybody who opts out wants to complain or sue, they're going to have to do it independently," she said, "and that will be almost impossible."
The court-imposed deadline for writers to decide whether or not to join the settlement is Jan. 28.