The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly investigating Google's digital books settlement with publishers, which Google claims will make millions of volumes accessible to all but which has critics crying antitrust issues. Google's books project has run into opposition from a number of groups arguing that it gives the search engine company too much control over content with little oversight.
has received Civil Investigative Demands from the U.S. Justice Department over
its digital books agreement with publishers, which critics argue violates
antitrust statutes. Google has been scanning books with the intent of creating
a massive and searchable digital library, from which readers can purchase
A CID functions as a formal demand for information. According to David
Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, the Justice Department's inquiry will
proceed separately from the federal court approving the actual settlement.
"The judge's job is not to review every question that the Department of
Justice might think about," Drummond told reporters, according to Reuters.
He also added that Google would be open to changing the terms of the settlement
"if it's a compelling argument."
Rumors about possible Justice Department probing into the matter have been
drifting around for weeks, although Google has kept quiet about the exact
"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," Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesperson, said
in a statement. "It's important to note that this agreement is nonexclusive
and, if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in
Reports indicate that the Justice Department also sent CIDs to two
publishers, including Lagardere's Hachette Book Group.
Under the settlement
between Google, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers,
Google is guaranteed the same terms as any future competitor, such as Yahoo
when negotiating over digital book rights.
As part of the agreement, Google also elected to create a nonprofit Book
Rights Registry that would handle digital rights issues. In an April letter to
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, John Simpson, a consumer advocate for
Consumer Watchdog, claimed that the settlement was too sweeping to be enacted
without government oversight.
"It is inappropriate for the resolution of a class action lawsuit to
effectively create an 'anti-compete' clause [that] precludes smaller competitors
from entering a market," Simpson argued in his letter.
In May, the American Library Association and Association of Research
Libraries also raised objections to Google's
monopoly potential in a court filing,
and asked for "vigorous
oversight" in the Google settlement.
Google argues that its digital books project will ultimately provide access
to untold numbers of obscure or rare volumes.