I'm a card-carrying member of the Author's Guild, but I won't be for long if they continue with colossally short-sighted stunts like their recent suit against the Google Library Project. I could say more about it, but Tim O'Reilly said exactly what I've been thinking -- and more -- in his superb op-ed in today's Times. Here's the key point:
A search engine for books will be revolutionary in its benefits. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors than copyright infringement, or even outright piracy. While publishers invest in each of their books, they depend on bestsellers to keep afloat. They typically throw their products into the market to see what sticks and cease supporting what doesn't, so an author has had just one chance to reach readers. Until now.
Google promises an alternative to the obscurity imposed on most books. It makes that great corpus of less-than-bestsellers accessible to all. By pointing to a huge body of print works online, Google will offer a way to promote books that publishers have thrown away, creating an opportunity for readers to track them down and buy them.
I've always taken what I consider to be a middle ground on IP issues: I don't have de facto objections to a little digital rights management (I think, for instance, that the iTunes DRM is a reasonable compromise), and while I'm a huge admirer of Larry Lessig, I've also written a few things that have been critical of his positions over the years. I think, obnoxious as they are, that the music industry execs are not entirely wrong to call file sharing stealing. But what Google Library is doing is in no way a violation of my rights as an author. As Tim says, they're actually doing us all a service. We should be thanking them for Google Library, not taking them to court.