Google Book Deal: Facing Possible Anti-Trust Investigation

April 30, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Reports are surfacing, after a story in the NY Times that U.S. Justice Department anti-trust regulators are now scrutinizing Google’s settlement agreement reached last October after a protracted copyright infringement lawsuit, brought against it by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Some authors and heirs are balking at the terms of the deal now and U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, just granted an extension until September 4 to give authors more time to review the agreement and present any objections.

Critics of the nearly 400-page settlement agreement are concerned about Google’s exclusive copyright grab of so-called “orphan works,” books and other texts that retain copyright protection, but the authors can’t be found. Another big bone of contention with critics is Google’s right to censor “inappropriate” works, which once censored, would prevent other entities from publishing the works online, sending those works into oblivion, never to be seen online again.

The settlement agreement now under scrutiny was reached after Google’s plan to create a giant online digital library of books, was brought to a halt in 2005 by copyright holders of the works. Google planned to scan millions of works, offering a peek into excerpts and offering the books for sale on its Google Books Search.

The parties in the suit reached a lengthy settlement agreement, where Google agreed to put up $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, allowing copyright holders to register their works and receive a percentage of Google’s earnings from institutional subscriptions and book sales. Copyright holders could also opt out of the registry, removing their works from Google’s service.

Judge Chin must ultimately approve the settlement agreement. With harsh criticism for the deal coming from many quarters and now a possible anti-trust investigation, the deal may ultimately become revised, removing orphan works from Google’s exclusive grasp, to satisfy Justice Department regulators.

Looming at the forefront of the critics of the deal are non-profit companies working to scan books and materials to provide a free digital library available to the public, much like traditional brick and mortar libraries. The non-profits want the orphaned works out of the Google settlement deal, saying granting Google exclusive rights to such works is a license to steal, infringing on copyright holders who can’t speak for themselves.

Peter Brantley, director of the non-profit Internet Archive, wants the orphaned works out of the settlement deal saying, “There are legitimate antitrust issues related to Google’s ability to solely commercialize this content…”

Google’s digital book service and the provisions of the final settlement agreement, have huge implications for the future availability of digital works to the public, as well as the future earning methods of copyright holders of the books.

As we continue to move away from actual “books” and move towards digital material, it’s imperative that Judge Chin and the Justice Department protect the rights of all competing interests for future generations and get this right.

This isn’t the first time Google caught the attention of anti-trust regulators. Last year the Justice Department stepped in and put a halt to Google’s advertising deal with Yahoo.



2 Responses to “Google Book Deal: Facing Possible Anti-Trust Investigation”

  1. Fed Eyes Apple and Google’s Boards, for Possible Antitrust Violation | ChattahBox News Blog on May 5th, 2009 12:17 pm

    […] last week it was reported that federal regulators were scrutinizing Google’s settlement agreement reached last October after a protracted copyright […]

  2. Fed Hiring Inquiry: Google, Yahoo, Apple and Others | ChattahBox News Blog on June 3rd, 2009 9:36 am

    […] Schmidt and an inquiry into Google’s settlement deal reached in a suit brought against it by publishers and the Authors Guild Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers […]

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