Google Book Settlement Officially on DOJ Radar


RadarEarlier in June we talked about how the Google book settlement reached with Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers was drawing the attention of the Department of Justice. The settlement between these two parties was reached in October 2008. There isn’t even final approval on the agreement and the fairness hearing to determine that approval is still months away. Under the settlement, Google’s plan to make available millions of titles copied from various public sources can move forward.

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.

The key phrase is the sharing of revenue that until the advent of this service was literally non-existent for many of these titles. Google’s blog post from last October says it pretty plainly

To date, Google has worked with libraries all over the world to make more than 7 million books searchable through Google Book Search, and we’re just getting started. We believe that ultimately we’ll provide access to many times that number, and if approved, this agreement will unlock access to millions of these texts and make the Google search experience even more comprehensive.

With this agreement, in-copyright, out-of-print books will now be available for readers in the U.S. to search, preview and buy online — something that was simply unavailable to date. Most of these books are difficult, if not impossible, to find. They are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they make up the vast majority of books in existence.

Now this settlement, which was reached with the parties who thought Google was getting away with something, is getting the real once over from the Department of Justice according to All Things Digital.

Since we are on the eve of the day that the United States celebrates our independence isn’t it interesting how the government thinks that maybe we have too much of a good thing with all of this “freedom” especially as it relates to business. Remember the good old days when you could get riled up about the Patriot Act because it was trampling our privacy? If the US government keeps up with its ownership of huge businesses and saying that if they don’t approve then it’s no good, they won’t need Patriot Act like bills. They’ll simply own or have a say in everything. They won’t to ask themselves permission to do anything. Apparently the rest of us are too stupid to handle our own affairs.

Ok, I admit it. I don’t think the government should be anywhere near as involved any business (not too obvious, right?) So back to the Internet and Google’s plight. The US ‘gub-ment’s’ official statement from Thursday states

“The United States has reviewed public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act,” wrote William F. Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general. “At this preliminary stage, the United States has reached no conclusions as to the merit of those concerns or more broadly what impact this settlement may have on competition. However, we have determined that the issues raised by the proposed settlement warrant further inquiry.”

Let’s read between the lines. What is really being said is that they are going to find or make up ways to get their hands dirty on this one. Good thing Google is ramping up its forces in the DC theater because there will be blood. Any meddling government group worth its salt is sure to have something up their sleeve in order to make a public pronouncement of action taken.

Google’s response?

“The Department of Justice and several state attorneys general have contacted us to learn more about the impact of the settlement, and we are happy to answer their questions.

It’s important to note that this agreement is non-exclusive and if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in the U.S.”

If Google had ‘back-doored’ this agreement or simply ignored the pleas of those who represent the authors rights like the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers then their actions would be troubling. What I don’t get is why can’t an agreement be reached that BOTH sides agreed to without the government coming in and determining whether they did a good enough job or not?

I am done with my rant. Thanks for sticking around. Please celebrate the 4th of July with a bit of reverence for the sacrifice made millions for the freedoms we still have.