After a few months of informal moves on it, the U.S. Justice Dept is now investigating an anti-trust inquiry into Google’s book settlement with the authors and publishers over its online book scanning and repository project. The agreement, which was reached last year, has been criticized by some authors and publishers as giving the search giant a stranglehold on the book publishing industry; the agreement is up for review by the federal court in New York in late October. In a letter to Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin of New York, William F. Cavanaugh, the Justice Department’s deputy assistant attorney general wrote that “The United States has reviewed public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act.” But even though the dept has not reached any conclusions on it, this requires further investigation, the letter said.
According to a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) spokesperson, quoted by LAT, “The Department of Justice and several state attorneys general have contacted us to learn more about the impact of the settlement, and we are happy to answer their questions…Its important to note that this agreement is non-exclusive and if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in the U.S.”
The Authors Guild, meanwhile, says this is just a procedural move by the Dept, and the agreement, while may need some tweaking, will withstand the inquiry.
In October last year, Google finally thought it had put the long-standing class action lawsuit with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its Google Book Search behind it. Under the terms of the settlement, Google has the right to display the books online and sell access to individual works. For example, Google could offer paid subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other institutions.
While Google agreed to share the revenues with the publishers and authors, libraries, some consumer rights groups and other parties are worried that Google would have solitary and overwhelming control over access to “orphan books”—titles whose authors and rights-holders have essentially abandoned. Since there’s no other online entity with access to these abandoned books, Google could effectively raise prices for access to the collection and libraries and other online repositories would have nowhere else to go for them.
Just last month, Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos expressed his concerns with the deal. He said at a conference that the agreement needs to be revisited…It doesnt seem right that you should do something—kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights. You just cant believe thats the way it actually works.
By Rafat Ali