Monday, July 06, 2009

US Enquire into Google Books deal

An article in the New York Times confirms that the US Justice Department has begun an anti trust investigation into the proposed settlement between authors and publishers against Google. Both sides agreed that this is a strong indicator that the issues raised by said authors and publishers are being taken seriously. The Federal Judge charged with reviewing the settlement said that the Justice Department was reviewing concerns that the agreement could violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. He went on to say "At this preliminary stage, 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," William F Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general, said "However, we have determined that the issues raised by the proposed settlement warrant further inquiry."

The $125m settlement would give Google the right to scan books both in and out of print and display them on line, selling these works by subscription to libraries and other institutions. The revenue from this venture would be shared amongst Google, authors and publishers (assuming they could be traced).

The settlement was agreed in principal in October and is subject to court approval, was intended to resolve a class action lawsuit originally filed in 2005 by the US Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers against Google. Several European countries have objected to the settlement including Germany and our own country.

While I realise that Google is an American company, and it was American authors and publishers who brought the case, it seems to me that the represent the interests of authors and publishers worldwide - namely, the right not to have their work copied without permission and to be adequately compensated when and if that work is copied. For once Google may have bitten off more than they can chew, especially now the European courts have raised their own objections, for it seems (and I realise this may sound like a generalisation and not all Americans are like this), Google are living up to the popular American image of being totally unaware that there is a world outside of their own country and that their actions can and do affect the rest of the world. Still, like I said, they are an American company and as such, subject to the American law, and the authors and publishers that brought this case are also American, but when a company operates worldwide through the Internet as Google does then what they do does affect other territories and they need to be careful not to violate other countries laws. It will then be interesting to see the outcome of this case and the European ones which are currently being considered.

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