House Judiciary considers Google Books deal Thursday

The House Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Google, Amazon, the Copyright Office and academics.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

The debate over the Google Books settlement is finally getting some attention where it belongs - Congress. Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will bring its special brand of hot air to the debate. The full committee holds a hearing on "Competition and Commerce in Digital Books." The speaker list seems to me a bit heavily weighted to the Google forces, but perhaps that is so the congressmen can tell the dealmakers what they think(?).

Speakers include: Google counsel David Drummond, Marc Maurer of the National Federation of the Blind, Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild; John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog and Paul Misener of Amazon; and Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights of the U.S. Copyright Office, law professor Randy Picker (who has called for the court to explicitly not immunize the parties against antitrust claims) and David Balto of the Center for American Progress (who has argued that the deal is good for consumers.)

Reuters has a report on what Google's Drummond said in prepared testimony:

Drummond said Google was "fully compliant with copyright law," and access to online books could revolutionize research in schools without major libraries. ... "We believe anyone who wants to re-use abandoned works should have a fair, legal way to do so. In our view, the settlement helps."

While not speaking tomorrow, the Open Book Alliance, headed by the Internet Archive and including most of Google's competitors, sent a letter to the Committee (PDF) detailing its criticism:

  • The proposed settlement harms consumers by thwarting competition and ignoring privacy concerns. It creates a digital book monopoly that will inevitably lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers of digital books. The settlement would allow a group of competing publishers and rights owners to collectively set prices and would leave Google as the only company with a the right to copy, display or sell digital versions of millions of so-called “orphan” works ... The settlement does nothing to ensure that Google does not use information about what books people are reading to make unfair profit or that it does not inappropriately share this knowledge with commercial interests or governments. Finally, the settlement is carefully structured to ensure that all of the covered digital content will be uniquely available to Google’s search engine, for refinement of their search algorithm as well as actual displayed results.
  • The settlement is bad for libraries and schools. While a handful of large and well-funded university libraries participated in the Google book-scanning effort, many other educational institutions and libraries will be forced to pay monopoly prices for access to the millions of books in the private Google database, straining already-stretched budgets and perpetuating a system of haves and have-nots in our nation’s education system.
  • The settlement is bad for authors and small publishers. Unless they act to opt out by the deadline, authors and other writers lose both rights and remedies enacted by Congress related to the fruits of their labor—a future in which they have no negotiating rights for the value of their work.
  • The settlement sets public policy through class action litigation. The proposed settlement far exceeds the bounds of a typical class action settlement by prospectively creating a digital book monopoly and effectively privatizing important copyright and other public policy decisions.

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