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Google Book Settlement May Be Unsettling to Government

booksJust as Google is trying to secure friends in high places in the halls of Washington, DC it is hearing that its class action book settlement from October with various book publishing entities is getting the serious attention of anti-trust regulators. Good thing there are so many Googlers on the ground in the nation’s capital to try to douse this one, if they can. No one wants to be looked at as an evil big business these days trying to take advantage of free market opportunities. That’s bad for business.

According to the New York Times

The Justice Department has sent the requests, called civil investigative demands, to various parties, including Google, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and individual publishers, said Michael J. Boni, a partner at Boni & Zack, who represented the Authors Guild in negotiations with Google.

The settlement was reached was for $125 million dollars is scheduled for a hearing in September. The trouble is that if the Justice Department is looking into the settlement for antitrust reasons it is unlikely that the judge overseeing the approval of the settlement will do anything until it is clear of any investigations.

The settlement itself comes from a class action suit brought by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. The concern back in 2005 was that Google’s scanning of books from academic and research libraries was violating copyright laws. Under the proposed settlement

Google would have the right to display the books online and to profit from them by selling access to individual titles and by selling subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other institutions. Revenue would be shared among Google, authors and publishers.

Critics said that the settlement would unfairly grant Google a monopoly over the commercialization of millions of books.

So the concern is that Google is poised to monopolize the industry for this previously under developed or even untapped market. So much for building a better mousetrap, ingenuity and just taking advantage of free market opportunities I suppose. Well, Google worked to get the new world order in place so now it will have to see if it will be a help or a hindrance to them making the move on the sale of these books.

My question is the following. If Google has agreed to share revenue among those who deserve to make money for copyright reasons, what is the trouble here? Is it now the way to go to punish a company for having the wherewithal and vision to capitalize on an opportunity? Google’s runaway success as a search engine may actually be getting in the way of even greater success in broader areas outside of search. Many would claim that their search dominance is a monopoly when the cold hard fact of the matter is that they so severely kicked every competitor’s butt in a fair market environment (remember they were not the first search engine by far) that they look like a monopoly now. What they really are is just the best at what they do at this point in time.

I am not Google apologist as many of my posts indicate. I am, however, a free market advocate. What Google could actually be doing is at least opening the doors for others to do similar things with these books but not on the same Google sized scale. Look how many people benefit from Google’s dominance in search. Somebody has to innovate and lead. Are we now so anti-business that just having a better idea and executing on it will be considered a possible threat to Western civilization? If that’s the case, all of you Internet marketing innovators better make sure your ideas aren’t too good. We wouldn’t want you actually capitalizing on how smart you are. That just wouldn’t be fair.