Slow Down Google, You’re Movin’ Too Fast

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed its opinion on Google Book’s proposed settlement with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers concerning its massive digitization project which aspires after a near-universal (and monetized) digital library.

On the whole, the DOJ supports Google Book’s efforts as being in the public interest, but objects to the lettering of the current settlement on anti-trust and copyright grounds. The DOJ recommends that the Court encourage further negotiations so that the project may continue, this time, on the right side of the law.

Choice and competition, the very myopic words that have made the healthcare debate a little too “on-message”, are the main reasons the DOJ opposes the digitization settlement. Google’s forward-looking business plan for mountains of digitized content scanned freely from public libraries presents a clear monopoly question.

That Google is treating copyright holders fairly is also openly questioned by the DOJ’s filing. Under the settlement currently before the Court, authors must request to be left out of Google Book’s project if they do not wish for their content to be digitized and sold online. The DOJ clearly states it is Google’s responsibility to ask permission from copyright holders to use their work, rather than the other way ‘round, and admonishes the Internet Giant for not making more of an effort to inform authors of its “opt-out” policy.

There is further concern about the rights of foreign authors since they are neither members of the Authors Guild nor the Association of American Publishers. As such, they are not adequately redressed by the settlement.

The Open Book Alliance, a loose affiliation of parties opposed to the current settlement, agreed with the DOJ’s premise that Google Book’s digitization project is in the public interest, but that more work is necessary to shore up concerns over copyright infringement and anti-trust law.

As the New York Times reports, since a sizeable piece of future-business pie is at stake, even once the District Court approves a settlement, appeals will likely be made. We are one step closer to a destination still far off.

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