Judge Leaves Google Book Search Deal in Limbo
A judge declined to rule on the proposed pact between Google and authors and publishers that would allow the search engine to scan out-of-print works on the Web and sell them to users.
Denny Chin, judge for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, said at a hearing for the Google Book Search deal Feb. 18 that he would instead write an opinion on the deal, which has been vociferously opposed by Google rivals Microsoft and Amazon as well as the Department of Justice. Chin gave no timeline for presenting his opinion.
According to BusinessWeek/Bloomberg, Chin said: "I am not going to rule today," adding that he is still reading and considering the 500-plus court papers submitted to him. "Voluminous materials have been submitted. There are recurring themes."
Google and the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers struck their Google Book Search deal in 2008 to resolve a copyright infringement suit between Google, authors and publishers stretching back to 2005.
The agreement called for Google to scan millions of orphan books, or those works for whom authors can't be found or are unknown. Google would then let users search for them and pay to use the works, with authors and publishers taking 63 percent of the sales and Google taking the remaining 37 percent. Google agreed to pay $125 million to settle the grievance and set up a Books Rights Registry to dispense the monies collected from book sales.
The DOJ and Google's search rivals opposed the deal, arguing that it would give Google too much control over orphan works in an increasingly competitive space. Privacy advocates complained that Google wasn't taking the necessary precautions to protect readers' privacy.
Google, authors and publishers in November 2009 amended the settlement, though opponents were still largely unsatisfied with the revision. The DOJ shot down the deal Feb. 4 because it said it gives Google "anti-competitive advantages."
That led to today's court hearing, where Google, authors and publishers asked the judge to accept the deal. A Google spokesperson told eWEEK after the hearing:
"As we stated in court today, we firmly believe the settlement should be approved-not only because it complies with the law, but also because it will help realize countless benefits."
Google's chief search rival Microsoft, Amazon (which is building its own digital library), the Open Book Alliance and 20-plus other entities took 5 minutes each to state their objections.
Supporters such as Sony, which makes e-reader devices that would leverage the digital Google Books library, said Google Book Search would provide great benefits to society. The Center for Democracy and Technology was concerned with threats Google Book Search might expose readers' privacy.
Most opponents were concerned the deal would give Google a digital book monopoly. Thomas Rubin, chief counsel for intellectual property strategy at Microsoft, told the court the settlement would give Google exclusive access to hundreds of millions of unclaimed published works.
Dow Jones (paywall warning) quoted Rubin as saying: "It can't possibly be good for competition when the vast majority of works are in the hands of an already dominant player." Google commands 65.4 percent of the search market, according to comScore.
The Google spokesperson told eWEEK:
"We heard many times today from supporters and objectors alike that the settlement offers an extraordinary opportunity to unlock access to millions of books for students, readers and researchers in the U.S.
"We appreciate the concerns voiced, but we believe this settlement strikes the right balance and should not be destroyed to satisfy the particular interests of the objectors."
Chin's opinion is what matters most now, and he hasn't delivered it. That
puts Google Book Search right back in limbo.