Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2009 Issue

Government Calls a Halt to Google Books Settlement

Govtbriefgoogle

The government files a brief opposing the Google Books settlement.


By Michael Stillman

The settlement between Google and groups representing authors and publishers that would allow the internet giant to make the text of out-of-print books available to the public has hit a snag. The settlement has had numerous opponents, including some authors and publishers, various European nations, Google competitors Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, certain library groups, and various others. Now add to that one more - the United States Federal Government. The Department of Justice filed an objection with the court just before the deadline of September 21. As a result, the Federal Court in New York hearing this case immediately postponed its final hearing scheduled for October 7. Instead, a status conference is planned for November 6, at which point the parties to the settlement are expected to have made changes needed to address the Department of Justice concerns.

The Open Book Alliance, a group of objectors formed to oppose the Google settlement, wasted no time in declaring the postponement a victory. "This has been seen by many as a clear victory for opponents to the settlement, as it acknowledges that even the parties involved recognize that the settlement, as it's currently written, is dead, and that any chance for revival requires making serious and fundamental changes," the Alliance posted on its website.

The settlement came out of a suit filed against Google by the Authors' Guild and Association of American Publishers. Google has been scanning millions of books from major libraries and making their digital copies available to the public through Google Books. They don't scan in-print books, and they have an unquestioned right to digitize books out of copyright, which includes anything published in America prior to 1923. However, Google had also been digitizing out-of-print books still under copyright protection. Normally the procedure would be to get permission of the copyright holder first. Unfortunately, many of these are so-called "orphan books," books legally under copyright, but the copyright holders cannot readily be found. They may be authors who died years ago, publishers that went out of business long ago. A requirement to first get their permission is tantamount to saying the book can never be digitized, its words unavailable to today's technology. So Google decided to scan first and ask questions later. The authors' and publishers' organizations sued on behalf of the copyright holders and agreed to a settlement whereby their parties would receive 63% of future sales, Google 37%.

This all sounds reasonable enough, but there are some problems. First of all, the government points out, this settlement becomes binding on all members of the "class" (copyright holders) unless those individuals opt out. However, many of those copyright holders aren't aware that their rights under copyright laws are being settled away, and the government does not believe an adequate attempt has been made to notify them. The Justice Department also expressed concerns that the rights of the unknown copyright holders are being represented by the known holders, whose interests may not be the same. Justice says that it "looks forward" to modifications to "minimize this conflict."

Justice's second objection involves potential antitrust issues. The first part of this issue is that prices are fixed through the 63%-37% formula and other factors such as to discourage price competition. The second part is that this settlement applies only to Google, and while it does not bar other would-be scanners from similar agreements, it requires they negotiate them lawfully. However, Google, to obtain this settlement, acted extra-lawfully, that is they violated copyright law by publishing these works, were sued, and then reached a settlement. The best others could hope to do is violate the law themselves and then reach a settlement after they were sued, which the settlement forbids. Additionally, the agreement provides that other scanners could not obtain a settlement with better terms than the one Google received, thereby prohibiting price negotiation.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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