Germany has declared itself an enemy of Google’s ambitious and controversial plans to digitise millions of out-of-print books, fearing the creation of an unfavourable “new copyright regime”. In a filing to a New York court on Tuesday, Angela Merkel’s administration urged US authorities not to green light Google’s settlement with publishers reached last year as it would be incompatible with global copyright law and unfair to authors, as Reuters.com and FT.com report.
In October Google (NSDQ: GOOG) spent $125 million settling a long-running class action suit with the US Authors’ Guild and the Association of American Publishers, to set up a books registry which will share 65 percent of the projects revenue with authors. But that agreement still needs approval from a US District Court, which holds a “fairness hearing” on 7 October. The case relates to the US only—but Germany argues that the deal will have global effects because German books will be available not just in America but to readers globally via proxy servers.
Johannes Christian Wichard, a senior official from Germany’s Justice Ministry, says in the filing (via Reuters.com) that Google’s plan would “flout German laws” and that if Google manages to sign an EU deal, it will have the “dramatic and long-range effect of creating a new worldwide copyright regime without any input from those who will be greatly impacted—German authors, publishers and digital libraries and German citizens.” The government is unhappy about “the proposed settlements shroud of secrecy and hint of an uncontrolled, authoritarian concentration of power”.
This week Europe’s media commissioner Viviane Reding gave her backing to Google’s plan and proposed that EU copyright law be changed to mirror the American system, making it easier for Google and the EU’s own digital library Europeana to digitise out-of-print works without authors’ consent. Currently, EU law authors must give consent before their work can be published—which technically outlaws Google’s plan to digitise out-of-print and orphan works, where no owner can be identified. Google has already digitised some 10 million books, but argues that orpahn works make up between one and two percent.
On Monday the European Commission is holding a “workshop” discussion on Google Books involving Google and rights holders and Reding will hold bilateral meetings with all the main players the next day. An EC spokesman told us “not to get excited because nothing will be decided there, nor will anything on Google Books be initiated”.
The US District Court’s hearing is not related to the US Department of Justice investigation into the settlement on anti-trust—the results of that inquiry are due on September 18.
By Patrick Smith