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Google’s Digital Library Settlement Rejected

March 23, 2011

Google Inc’s plans to bring an immense library to the Internet has been dealt a major setback by a US judge on Tuesday, rejecting a settlement with authors and publishers over Google’s digital book-scanning project.

In a 48-page ruling given 13 months after parties stated their cases in court, US District Court Judge Denny Chin said the proposed deal “is not fair, adequate and reasonable.”

“While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the (proposed settlement) would simply go too far,” said Chin.

The proposed settlement would have allowed Google “significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners,” Chin explained. It would give Google a “significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission.”

Although he shut down the proposed settlement, the door was left open for the parties involved to go back to the drawing board and work up a new deal.

“The motion for final approval of the (proposed settlement) is denied, without prejudice to renewal in the event the parties negotiate a revised settlement agreement,” said Chin.

The settlement agreement stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) charging Google with copyright infringement.

The settlement looked for Google to pay $125 million to resolve outstanding claims and to establish a “Book Rights Registry,” which would provide sales and advertising revenue to authors and publishers.

The issue gained attention from both sides of the coin with supporters of the settlement arguing that the proposed digital library would make millions of out-of-print books available and provide authors a new way to profit from their works. While opponents looked for a deal rejection, saying it would give Google exclusive rights to digitize out-of-print books whose authors cannot be traced.

The US Justice Department criticized the settlement for including books unless an author opted out of the deal.

Chin also expressed concern about the opt-out part of the settlement. “Many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the (proposed settlement) were converted from an ‘opt-out’ settlement to an ‘opt-in’ settlement,” he said in his ruling.

“This is clearly disappointing, but we’ll review the court’s decision and consider our options,” Google counsel Hilary Ware told AFP in a statement, expressing disappointment with Judge Chin’s ruling.

“Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open-up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the US today “¦ regardless of the outcome, we’ll continue to work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online through Google Books and Google eBooks,” she said.

Google Books project, launched in 2004, has digitized over 15 million books from more than 100 countries. The Internet search company also opened its Google eBookstore, a separate venture, in December 2010.

The judge’s ruling was welcomed by the Open Book Alliance — a coalition of groups which opposed the settlement and included Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo! — calling it “a victory for the public interest and for competition in the literary and Internet ecosystems.”

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