Copyright office weighs in against Google
Book deal at odds with law, top official says
SAN FRANCISCO - The nation’s top copyright official has joined the mounting opposition to a class-action settlement that would give Google Inc. the digital rights to millions of out-of-print books.
Her objections cast further doubt on whether the agreement will be allowed by a federal court, even as Google offered a concession yesterday aimed at smoothing the way for approval.
Parts of the settlement are “fundamentally at odds with the law,’’ Marybeth Peters, head of the copyright office, testified in a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday that was webcast. She also expressed concerns that the settlement would undermine Congress’ ability to govern copyrights and could have “serious international implications’’ for books published outside the United States.
Peters can’t block Google’s settlement with US authors and publishers. That decision rests with US District Judge Denny Chin, who has scheduled an Oct. 7 hearing in New York to review the settlement.
But Peters’s conclusions will probably be drawn upon as critics of the deal try to convince Chin that the settlement shouldn’t be approved, said Peter Brantley, director of access for the Internet Archive. The archive has joined forces with Google rivals
It isn’t clear how the copyright office’s opinion might influence the Department of Justice, which is investigating whether the settlement would hurt competition in the growing market for digital books. The Justice Department is expected to share some of its findings with Chin in documents scheduled to be filed by Sept. 18.
At issue are Google’s plans to scan millions of books, make them searchable online, and sell subscriptions to libraries and individual copies to consumers. Google says this will revitalize works that might otherwise be long forgotten. The $125 million settlement emerged last year after trade groups representing publishers and authors sued Google on copyright-infringement claims.
Google says it has made digital copies of more than 10 million books in the past five years, including about 2 million titles no longer covered by copyright and another 2 million that were indexed after copyright holders gave their explicit permission. The rest are out of print but still protected by copyright.
In its testimony to the congressional committee, Google reiterated its claim that the settlement will make literature and research more widely available while promoting competition in the digital book market.
A long list of supporters, including major libraries, disabled-rights activists, technology groups, economics professors, and lawyers, endorses the settlement for similar reasons. Some of them testified at yesterday’s hearing.
Google also tried to address the concerns that it will gain a stranglehold on the digital rights to millions of books. Hoping to ease this criticism, it said it would allow Amazon and other online retailers to sell its digital copies of out-of-print books covered by the settlement.
Competitors drawing upon Google’s digital library would be allowed to keep most of the revenues left from the sales after authors and publishers get their shares.
But Brantley of the Internet Archive said Google’s concession isn’t much of a sacrifice. That’s because Google would still be in control of the digital index, giving it access to potentially valuable data on how users interact with it. It would also be the only entity that could sell out-of-print books that aren’t claimed by the copyright owners.
The control means Google would still be able to set the prices on millions of books, Brantley said.