Bezos Doesn't Like Google's Book Settlement Either

Google’s book settlement with the Author’s Guild has drawn an unusual number of critics and an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. Amazon CEO Jefrey Bezos doesn’t like it either.

Asked about the settlement onstage today at Wired’s Disruptive By Design Conference, Bezos replied:

That settlement in our opinion needs to be revisited. It doesn’t seem right that you should kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights. The class action settlement law . . . , you can’t believe that is the way it actually works.

Google’s book settlement gives it a blanket right to display the text of any orphan work (unclaimed books still under copyright), and to sell digital copies of such works. Since the majority of book actually fall under this category, the settlement would in effect give Google an exclusive right to show or sell these books. Amazon, the world’s largest book store, is not part of the settlement and would have no legal way to sell these same books without exposing itself to copyright violations.

There is a way out of this. As I’ve suggested before:

Google should amend some of the terms of the settlement to make it non-exclusive and the Author’s Guild should extend the same terms to any other company or organization that wants to digitize orphan books.

In other words, Google needs to free the orphans. Don’t make this just a deal between authors and Google. Make it a deal between authors and any existing or future book digitizer.

Bezos also had some good advice for company founders and entrepreneurs: “Be stubborn on the big things and be flexible on the details.”

On failure, he pointed out that only rarely is the cost of failure more than the cost of not trying anything at all:

One of the reasons companies are so non-experimental is that they over-dramatize how expensive failure is going to be.

Failure is not that expensive. You almost never hear a company criticized for failing to try something

As long as it is not a bet-the-company kind of failure, most companies can survive. Amazon has tried and failed at auctions and search, for example. But its bets on Web services and the Kindle are paying off. The winners pay for the losers. That is important to remember.