Yesterday, while Americans were enjoying Labor Day on their myriad lawns and porches, we Europeans were (relatively) hard at work. The European Commission sat down yesterday to review Google Book's Library Project. Today is the deadline to file briefs in the U.S. against Google.
Though the Project began over four years ago, it’s only now that people are really crying foul over the company’s scheme to sell copyright-protected but out-of-print books online. The books have been digitized from many a library collection without the consent of the books’ authors or publishers.
Today is the deadline for submitting amicus briefs to the U.S. District Court which will review the settlement reached between Google and the Author’s Guild/Association of American Publishers which allows Google's digitization/monetization project to continue. The Court will have a hearing on 7 October which will include anti-trust findings by the U.S. Department of Justice.
One brief submitted on behalf of the Republic of Germany is available online. Its principle argument is that the Settlement is an unfair modification to copyright law, one that violates the authors’ intellectual property rights:
The principal problem with the class action process, ostensibly designed to make whole victims of prior harm while discouraging future misconduct by the defendant, is that it is being used by Google to obtain a compulsory license to all books in copyright throughout the world, which it could not get otherwise under law. It is likewise being used by the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers to take control over the emerging market for digital literary works, create a new collecting body, the Book Rights Registry, and receive the revenue from commercialization of digital rights, which they could not get otherwise under law.
Concluding this paragraph, the brief says:
This blunderbuss approach should be discouraged given the Settlement's potential effect on the rights of the authors, publishers and digital libraries of one of the U.S.'s principal trading partners, namely, Germany.
Besides threatening trade war (!), the brief objects to Google’s “opt-out” policy whereby authors of out-of-print books must contact Google if they do not want their work sold digitally online. The brief says:
The opt out mechanism stands on its head the most fundamental and essential underlying principal of international copyright law and the laws of Germany -- exclusivity. Under both U.S. and German copyright law, no one may use an author's intellectual property without permission.
While the legal process continues, the Open Book Alliance will keep you updated about the mounting, but woefully tardy, opposition to Google’s plans. In the popular media, the question over Google’s ambitions is one of piracy versus philanthropy.