Sergey Brin, Monopsonist Book Enthusiast

If you’ve been following the Google Books settlement debacle, you know that there are some serious questions about what are probably inaccurately referred to as orphan works, but what are probably more accurately called “Google Orphans.” Google Orphans are a special class of works for which Google cannot locate the author (for whom Google has no incentive to look very hard).

In a WSJ interview with the very well grounded Sergey Brin (and our favorite PhD, Eric Schmidt, although it appears that Schmidt was just along for the ride), it becomes apparent that he is the very model of the monopsonist book enthusiast.

He emotes with passion for the subject. “’The companies that are making these objections have done nothing for orphan works,’ Mr. Brin added. ‘Nobody was interested in these works at all [aside from 100s of thousands of work hours on the subject in the last 5 years and the orphan works regimes devleoped in Canada and the European Union], and there is no existing market for them [aside from Canada]. So I think these objections that Google will be the only one [presumably meaning that Google will have a monopoly on Google Orphans] are pretty ludicrous given that no one else has done this.”

So I guess there are a couple not so important people he disagrees with, since a company would have to be “pretty ludicrous” to disagree with Google. So presumably he’d disagree with this statement: “Other market competitors who might compete with Google will be disadvantaged by observing the [French intellectual property law] and copyright laws since failing to enjoy the same legal safe harbor from orphan work liability. Such a legal safe harbor would only be available to competitors through legislation or litigation, thus, giving Google a head start that can only lessen competition. In contrast, France doesn’t recognize such a safe harbor. The proposed Settlement, thus, not only contradicts the French [intellectual property law] but will also likely hamper U.S. Congressional efforts to balance these competing interests. In so doing, the orphans, whether from French or U.S. soil, will not receive all of the protections they might otherwise have enjoyed.”

Oh, no wait. That’s not an objection from a company, that’s from the French Republic.

A country.

Maybe countries don’t count?

How about this? “Other market competitors who might compete with Google will not enjoy the same legal safe harbor from orphan work liability. Such legal safe harbor would only be available to competitors through legislation or litigation, thus, giving Google a head start that can only lessen competition. In contrast, Germany only recognizes such a limited safe harbor for certain non-commercial uses of digitized works by virtue of an enactment by the German legislature rather than a private agreement. Similarly, the U.S. Congress has been considering passage of orphan works legislation that would, through a careful balancing of public interests, provide universal access to orphan works while still maintaining some measure of accountability by users. The Settlement, thus, not only contradicts the laws of Germany but will also likely hamper Congressional efforts to balance these competing interests. In so doing, the orphans, whether from German or U.S. soil, will not receive all of the protections they might otherwise have enjoyed.”

Oopsie. Another pesky country, the Federal Republic of Germany. Silly me, I should be looking for ludicrous companies not ludicrous countries.

Well maybe this one: “The structure of the Proposed Settlement itself, therefore, pits the interests of one part of the class (known rightsholders) against the interests of another part of the class (orphan works rightsholders). Google’s commercial use of orphan works will generate revenues, which will be deposited with the Registry. Any unclaimed revenues, however, will inure to the benefit of the Registry and its registered rightsholders. Thus, the Registry and its registered rightsholders will benefit at the expense of every rightsholder who fails to come forward to claim profits from Google’s commercial use of his or her work. And, as noted above, the broad scope of the Proposed Settlement’s licensing provisions exacerbate this conflict. The greater the economic exploitation of the works of unknown rightsholders by Google and the Registry, the stronger the incentive for known rightsholders to retain the unclaimed revenues for themselves.”

Dang, that’s another country. The ludicrous United States.

Of America.

I just can’t seem to get it right, there are so many objections. Or maybe…do you think he wasn’t told that countries were being ludicrous? Or is he prepared to tell France, Germany and the United States that they are stupid?

But the Monopsonist Book Enthusiast also lays down the law that there’s going to be no funny business with the content owners thinking they can set their own prices. “Content owners will not set the price. ‘Everyone is familiar with this problem in selling your house. We’re not going to use the price you suggest,’ he said.” [Of course, it’s a little difficult to steal someone’s house if they don’t agree to sell it to you for the price you want. But that’s another story.]

“In the view of the Department [of Justice]…as a result of the Proposed Settlement, other digital distributors may be effectively precluded from competing with Google in the sale of digital library products and other derivative products to come. These problems are evident on the face of the Proposed Settlement and the concerns they raise have not to this point been convincingly addressed by the parties.”

Oh, well. I’m sure the Monopsonist Book Enthusiast didn’t really mean to imply that Google would dictate the price to content owners using the monopsony power of the books settlement.

How about this one: Taking a question “[o]n Google’s culture (prompted by this week’s New Yorker article, which mentions Mr. Brin’s discomfort with some employees’ feeling of entitlement at a meeting in Phoenix):

Brin: I haven’t finished reading it yet. But I certainly do recall the Phoenix layoffs.

Schmidt: We did not lay them off, we moved the Phoenix people to other sites.

Brin: The vast majority of people did stay with us. [So…what does that mean? Were they laid off or not? Or did they just get googled when the clocks struck 13?] There was a period of time where the culture was misinterpreted. I remember when we would start working in a garage, and Larry would roll in with sandwiches, and that evolved into an expectation of all gourmet food all the time. I think it’s important to reset the culture from time to time. Several years ago, we did that. People had extrapolated from our past practices. We decided to, for example, significantly cut down all the snacks.”

Just cut down the snacks, you’re not in the garage anymore.

Wow. Now that guy is CEO material. There is definitely some bailout money in his future.

Well, it’s just another day through the looking glass. That is not the droid you are looking for.