Commentary

Google Books Deal Scuttled By Judge

A federal judge today nixed the deal between Google and book publishers and authors that would have allowed Google to create an online books registry.

"While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the [settlement agreement] would simply go too far," U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin in New York wrote in a 48-page ruling disapproving the deal. The agreement would have resolved a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Google in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. They alleged that Google infringed copyright by digitizing books.

The agreement called for Google to fund a new book rights registry, and would have allowed the company to digitize books and sell downloads at prices it sets with the registry.

The deal was controversial for many reasons. One of the major concerns dealt with "orphan rights," or works under copyright, but whose owner isn't known. The agreement would have protect Google -- but not other companies -- from copyright infringement liability for publishing those works. Critics, including consumer advocacy groups, argued that this provision would have effectively granted Google a monopoly in orphan works. Additionally, they argued, the problem of orphan works should be dealt with by Congress, and not on a piecemeal basis through individual lawsuit settlements.

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That argument seemed to resonate with Chin. "The questions of who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books, under what terms, and with what safeguards are matters more appropriately decided by Congress than through an agreement among private, self-interested parties," he wrote.

Some consumer groups also opposed the settlement because, they said, it didn't provide enough privacy safeguards for consumers. Organizations like the American Library Association warned that Google would collect personal information from book buyers, but wouldn't be obligated to keep those records confidential.

Chin wrote that the privacy concerns were "real," but not insurmountable. "Google has 'committed' to certain safeguards ... although these are voluntary undertakings only," he wrote. "I would think that certain additional privacy protections could be incorporated, while still accommodating Google's marketing efforts."

1 comment about "Google Books Deal Scuttled By Judge ".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, March 22, 2011 at 5:51 p.m.

    We are so busy protecting the rights of unknown orphan book authors or publishers, and the already protected rights of online users that we have managed to postpone the valuable, and perhaps, invaluable availability, in searchable form for readers and researchers, of all these books. The kudzu of lawyers strikes again.

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