Press Release

DOJ Officially Opens Investigation Into Google Book Search


Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 10:56 am

    The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed on Thursday that it is
    investigating a settlement involving Google Book Search for possible
    antitrust violations, following months of speculation that the agency
    had its eye on the service.

    In a filing to the judge overseeing
    the settlement of a lawsuit filed by The Authors Guild against Google,
    the DOJ informed the court that it has opened an investigation into the
    proposed settlement after reviewing public comments of concern. Those
    comments suggest that the agreement might violate the Sherman Act, a
    U.S. antitrust law, the DOJ said.

    "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," the letter reads.

    It also says the
    DOJ has already demanded access to documents and other information from
    parties in the litigation and expects to have ongoing discussions with
    them as well.

    The court has a hearing scheduled for Oct. 7,
    during which it will discuss the proposed settlement. Judge Denny Chin,
    who is overseeing the case, invited the DOJ to submit its opinions in
    writing in advance and also appear at the hearing.

    Authors and
    publishers initially filed the suit against Google, charging the search
    giant with copyright infringement for scanning books without always
    getting the approval of authors and publishers. Google allowed authors
    to opt out of the program.

    As part of the proposed settlement,
    Google would pay US$125 million toward funding a Book Rights Registry
    that would locate and register copyright owners. The money would also
    help settle existing claims by authors and publishers. In exchange,
    Google would be able to display larger chunks of in-copyright books,
    rather than just snippets.

    Also, Google would let people buy
    online access to the books, and universities and other institutions
    would be able to buy subscriptions to the books.

    The proposed
    settlement has had its critics. Pamela Samuelson, a professor at the
    University of California at Berkeley, argues that the proposed
    settlement is in essence a way to monetize so-called orphan works, and
    that it is questionable whether the deal represents the best interests
    of the authors of such works. Orphan works are those for which no one
    claims ownership, because either the author is dead or the publishing
    house no longer exists.

    Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit group,
    argues that the proposal gives Google special protections against
    lawsuits over the orphan works. Those special protections would
    discourage potential Google competitors from entering the digital book
    business unless they could negotiate a similar protection, the group
    argues. Consumer Watchdog has urged the DOJ to examine the settlement.

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