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The international publishing community has been following with special anxiety Google's efforts to win exemption from basic property provisions of copyright law. But it must feel relief over an interim court victory in September. A hearing scheduled for 7 October — during which Google was prepared to argue for unique privileges for exploiting a database of (so far) five million books scanned by the company from the University of Michigan library collections — was postponed so that the parties could negotiate with an alarmed US Justice Department. Judge Denny Chin, in granting the request for postponement, cited the worldwide interest in the case: "The current settlement raises significant issues, as demonstrated not only by the number of objections, but also by the fact that the objectors include countries, states, non-profit organisations, and prominent authors and law professors. Clearly, fair concerns have been raised."

I could hardly be more involved in the controversy. I am an alumna of the University of Michigan and a member of the US Authors Guild, which is a party to the proposed settlement. I am "included" in the settlement because of my four US-copyrighted books. I am also a client of the literary agency (Writers' Representatives, LLC) that has made the most noise against the deal and I became a formal legal objector along with most of the firm's other clients. But I also lived in South Africa for ten years, published a book there and was a member of Pen South Africa, an affiliate of the largest international organisation of professional writers. 

My South African experience is perhaps the most influential in my thinking about the case. Google's behaviour towards copyright so far is strikingly like what I saw in African publishers dealing with African authors. Google has gone to where the Third World has been all along, and is already at (in Western terms) a post-legal, post-national, post-free-market stage. For a long time, while in the usual way the law has lagged behind technology, the company has been freely wielding some heavy faits accomplis.

I found out about the Google Book Partners Programme through a Q&A about the proposed settlement that the Authors Guild emailed to me. The programme, the Q&A emphasised, was not part of the settlement — that is, here is what Google is doing without being challenged about its legality. 

 "Google books" is apparently already a well-established entity, widely touted, as Napster once was, and as the settlement is being now, as a way to bring neglected creative work to light. There are two major components: the "Partners Programme", for publishers and authors, and the "Library Project", obviously for libraries.

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