Press Release

Attorneys For Consumer Watchdog In Court To Argue Against Google Books Deal

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Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm

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NEW YORK, NY — Attorneys for Consumer Watchdog will appear in a federal court today to urge Judge Deny Chinn to reject the revised Google Books settlement because it remains anticompetitive and violates both U.S. and international law.

The case in U.S. District Court’s Southern District of New York stems from a suit brought by The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.  Consumer Watchdog  is represented by Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP at today’s 10 am Fairness Hearing on the proposed class action settlement.

“The proposed amendments to the Google Book Settlement are insufficient, and the settlement remains fundamentally flawed. If approved, this settlement would improperly destroy potentially millions of absent authors’ exclusive copyrights and would give Google an unfair monopoly that is not in the public interest,” said Daniel Fetterman of Kasowitz, Benson.

The U.S. Justice Department is among those opposing the settlement. Click here to read Consumer Watchdog’s full amicus curiae brief.

“We were among the first to call for the Justice Department to intervene in the Google Books case,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate for the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. “We certainly agree with the department’s latest characterization of the amended settlement as ‘a bridge to far.’ Google claims it is building a digital library to benefit the public. In fact this deal, negotiated in secret, simply furthers the relatively narrow agenda of Google, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

“In essence Google’s latest arguments seem to boil down to this: ‘Our motto is don’t be evil, so you can trust us to control the world’s digital library.’ Consumer Watchdog supports digitizing books. The problem is this proposed settlement gives unfair control to one company and the law says you can’t do that no matter how good they say their intentions are.”

In its amicus brief Consumer Watchdog said the proposed settlement should be rejected by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin because:

– The settlement continues to abuse the class action process and is not fair reasonable or adequate: “This revised plan is still nothing more than a private business arrangement, masquerading as a settlement, that would steal from unsuspecting absent class members while benefiting Google.  Notably, it is only the Rightsholders’ share of the proceeds that will be donated to charity, and Google would still make a profit from these sales.”

– The amended settlement continues to give Google an unlawful and anti-competitive monopoly: “In effect, the agreement temporarily suspends the copyright laws for Google, giving it the rights to copy, distribute, and publicly display millions of copyrighted books—including ‘orphan’ works for which Rightsholders cannot be easily located.  By utilizing the class action settlement mechanism to obtain these rights, Google avoids the transaction costs that any potential competitor would have to incur.”

– The proposed settlement is an unconstitutional attempt to revise the rights and remedies of U.S. Copyright law: “ In essence, the parties ask the Court to strip copyright protection from millions of books, putting the onus back on the copyright holders to step forward and reclaim their works.  But this Court may not rewrite copyright law.  Only Congress has ‘the constitutional authority and the institutional ability to accommodate fully the varied permutations of competing interests’ that must be balanced when amending the Copyright Act.”

–The proposed settlement settlement continues to conflict with international law: “One of the most significant revisions to the proposed settlement is that many international Authors and Publishers are now excluded from this settlement through the revised definition of ‘Book.’  But Rightsholders from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom—all countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention—are still included.   And authors from these countries would be subjected to the identical, and impermissible, ‘formalities’ that were found in the original settlement.”

– The amended settlement does not do enough to protect reader privacy:  “The current amendment merely restricts what data could be shared with the Registry, but otherwise remains silent about whether, and to what extent, the public’s reading preferences could be shared with other organizations such as news outlets or governmental authorities acting without a search warrant.  And while Google has publicly asserted that its current privacy policy will apply to its book activities, that policy is voluntary by nature and subject to change at Google’s whim.”

– The public deserves a ruling on the question of fair use: “The Plaintiffs contend that Google’s copying and displaying copyrighted Books violates 17 U.S.C. § 106, while Google argues that such use is permitted under the fair-use doctrine.  If, as Google claims, its search-engine activities are protected by fair use, a ruling on this matter would not only resolve the parties’ conflict, but would (if resolved in Google’s favor) allow the creation of a competitive book-search market, not one controlled solely by Google, who is already the market leader in on-line search engines.”

The brief concluded:  “If, as Google claims, its ‘limited’ search-engine activities are protected by fair use, the public deserves an adjudication on this matter, to allow the creation of a competitive book-search market. And it is up to Congress to create a solution to the orphan-works problem that would allow all potential users to benefit, while protecting the copyright holders as well as international interests.  The parties simply cannot justify this ‘solution’ which does not adequately protect the Rightsholders and unfairly benefits a single party.  Accordingly, Consumer Watchdog respectfully asks that the Court not approve the settlement.”

In April Consumer Watchdog asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene in the Google Books settlement and Justice subsequently announced it was investigating the deal and then opposed the initial settlement. It filed objections to the amended settlement on Feb. 4

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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca.  Our website is www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.

Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP is a national law firm with over 300 lawyers specializing in high stakes, complex litigation.  The firm has offices in New York, Newark, Houston, Atlanta, Miami and San Francisco. For more information, visit www.kasowitz.com.
Contact: Daniel Fetterman, 212-506-1934, dfetterman@kasowitz.com or Peter Toren, 212-506-1986, ptoren@kasowitz.com .

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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