John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

A Google Book Search for “Antitrust Law” Ought to Come in Handy Here…

googbooksGoogle’s gone and run afoul of the Department of Justice again. Its interest piqued by the growing outcry over the company’s proposed book-search settlement with authors and publishers, the agency has opened an inquiry.

Sources briefed on the matter say DOJ attorneys have contacted Google (GOOG) as well as the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild about the antitrust implications of the agreement. Presumably at issue here are concerns over the settlement’s opt-out terms–authors and publishers who don’t opt out have effectively opted in–and the fate of orphan works, books still in copyright but whose copyright owners are unknown.

Orphan works number in the millions and the fear is that this settlement gives Google a powerful blanket license for them. As Pamela Samuelson, director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, recently noted:

An estimated 70 per cent of the books in the Book Search repository are in-copyright, but out of print. Most of them are, for all practical purposes, “orphan works,” that is, works for which it is virtually impossible to locate the appropriate rights holders to ask for permission to digitize them….The proposed settlement agreement would give Google a monopoly on the largest digital library of books in the world….Google will also be the only service lawfully able to sell orphan books and monetize them through subscriptions….Virtually the only way that, Microsoft, Yahoo!, or the Open Content Alliance could get a comparably broad license as the settlement would give Google would be by starting its own project to scan books. The scanner might then be sued for copyright infringement, as Google was. It would be very costly and very risky to litigate a fair use claim to final judgment given how high copyright damages can be (up to $150,000 per infringed work). Chances are also slim that the plaintiffs in such a lawsuit would be willing or able to settle on equivalent or even similar terms.

Samuelson concludes that the Book Search agreement as written is essentially a major restructuring of the book industry and an anticompetitive one at that. If that is indeed the case–and Google maintains that it is not–it’s worrisome indeed. Certainly, it’s reason enough for the DOJ to give the agreement a good once-over.