Google Books opposition pours in at deadline

Tuesday is the last day to file statements on Google's Book Search settlement and several groups have gone on record opposing the deal.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read

Several groups opposed to Google's Book Search settlement filed court briefs outlining their concerns on Tuesday, the last day such briefs would be accepted.

As expected, lawyers for Microsoft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a coalition called the Open Book Alliance blasted the deal as anticompetitive and detrimental to consumers. The Open Book Alliance's brief compares Google's Book Search settlement to a modern-day version of the cartel involving John Rockerfeller's Standard Oil and the railroad industry, which eventually led to the Sherman Act's antitrust laws.

Google is trying to get final approval of its settlement with book publishers and authors granting it the right to digitize certain out-of-print books. In October, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will consider arguments for and against the settlement, which has inspired hundreds of pages of reading material for Chin to consider before the hearing.

Gary Reback, who helped prosecute Microsoft in the 1990s for anticompetitive behavior, authored the Open Book Alliance's brief. "Google and the plaintiff publishers secretly negotiated for 29 months to produce a horizontal price fixing combination, effected and reinforced by a digital book distribution monopoly. Their guile has cleared much of the field in digital book distribution, shielding Google from meaningful competition."

Microsoft, now finding itself on the same side of the issue as Reback, argued in a brief that Google should not have obtained clearance to scan copyright protected books through a class-action settlement. "The proposed settlement goes well beyond the legitimate role of a copyright lawsuit--resolving claims for infringement--and imposes a slew of provisions that would restructure the rights and remedies of absent copyright owners throughout the world," Microsoft said in its brief.

Google argues that anyone who wants to digitize books can cut deals with the Books Rights Registry set up as part of the settlement, but at the moment the company is the only organization in the world with a license to scan and display books that have gone out of print but are still protected by copyright laws. Google plans to display portions of those books (rights-holders can specify how much Google is allowed to show) as part of the Google Book Search product and will also provide access to the books through public library terminals and institutional subscriptions sold to university and research libraries.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association filed a brief in support of Google's proposed settlement. ""For the past 20 years, I have dedicated my career to fighting against monopolies and this settlement isn't one. This settlement will increase competition for online book sales, and among books themselves," said Ed Black, CCIA president and CEO, in a statement.

And over the holiday weekend, Google agreed to give European authors and publishers a seat at the table. However, an umbrella group involving the EFF, American Civil Liberties Union, and several authors is distrustful of Google's intent.

"Google Book Search and other digital book projects will redefine the way people read and research," said author Jonathan Lethem in a press release distributed by the EFF. "Now is the moment to make sure that Google Book Search is as private as the world of physical books."

Google updated its privacy policy for Google Books last week after it was urged to provide more details, but several groups don't think it goes far enough. Google has said it will release a complete privacy policy for Google Books once the settlement is approved and the company launches all aspects of the service.