The Justice Department is "in contact" with Google and its critics over a proposed settlement that essentially gives Google monopoly control over thousands of books that may belong in the public domain. The Wall Street Journal reported today that antitrust investigators at Justice have been talking with Google about the possibility that the deal is anticompetitive.
[C]ritics and legal experts have raised concerns that the agreement could give Google too much power over distribution and pricing of works that are still covered by U.S. copyright law but whose rights' owners are unknown, so-called orphan works.
The settlement, reached in October between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, would create a $125 million fund that authors would be paid out of. The authors and publishers sued in a 2005 class action over Google's giant book-scannning operation, which has been scanning both public domain and copyrighted works.
At one point the deal looked like a fait accompli, but as the deadlines approach more scrutiny is being paid.
The Internet Archive recently attemted to intervene in the case but was shot down Friday by Judge Denny Chin. Judge Chin also pushed back the opt-out deadlines for class members four months to September. (Order is here)
In its request to intervene, the Archive's lawyers said:
[T]he proposed Settlement Agreement . . . effectively limits the liability for the identified uses of orphan works of one party alone, Google Inc., and provides for a Books Rights Registry, the interests of which are represented solely by identified rightsholders, to negotiate their exploitation.
As for anyone else who would want to use those orphan works? "Unlike Google, such persons could face potentially significant statutory damages for their use of orphan works."