Google Settlement Debate Intensifies

Adrian Versteegh

Both opponents and supporters of the Google Book settlement are closing ranks as the September 4 deadline for court filings approaches. This week saw attacks on the deal from the Open Book Alliance—a group comprising Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo, among others—as well as sharp criticism from the Urban Libraries Council. Meanwhile, Sony filed documents on Wednesday praising Google’s massive book-scanning venture as a boon for consumers.

The Open Book Alliance, a coalition whose members include—aside from the aforementioned tech giants—the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the American Society of Journalists and Authors, says the settlement sets a “dangerous” legal precedent and raises concerns about competition, distribution, and public access in the burgeoning e-book market. The group launched a Web site on Wednesday laying out point-by-point objections to the deal, which it calls “an unprecedented monopoly and price fixing cartel.” Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive, one of the leaders of the Open Book Alliance, told the Wall Street Journal that the coalition would likely file documents with the court.

Echoing concerns sounded by library groups in May, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) filed a statement asking the court to require that parties to the settlement implement greater privacy protections along with an institutional subscription program for public, rather than simply academic, libraries. The ULC also requested that the Book Rights Registry—the nonprofit body created by the deal to represent copyright holders—be expanded to include representatives from libraries as well as the general public. “Google and the Book Rights Registry will control the market for delivery of millions of books, without much danger of effective competition,” the ULC wrote to the court. “While there is no present indication that the parties to the settlement will abuse their position, there is also no check upon them.”

On the other side of the debate, Sony, which has launched a number of recent challenges to Amazon’s Kindle, came out in favor of the settlement and the Google Book Search initiative as a whole. In a court filing, the electronics giant said the program would “foster competition, spur innovation, and create efficiencies that will substantially benefit consumers.” Sony’s line of digital readers has benefitted from a partnership announced with Google in March.

The deadline for authors and other rightsholders to opt out of the $125-million Google Book settlement is September 4. The deal—currently under investigation by both the U.S. Justice Department and the European Commission—will be the subject of a “fairness hearing” in U.S. District Court on October 7.