Google Book Search is more than a massive undertaking to organize the world's books online and make them available to users.
It's become a epic struggle aficionados of "Star Wars" can appreciate. From a legal standpoint, this quest stretches back five years, which for many of us who have watched not only Google but the rest of the Internet Wild West burgeon seems like it's long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
One week after Google, authors and publishers submitted their revised proposal, New York District Court Judge Denny Chin granted preliminary approval to the class-action settlement.
Google was pleased:
"The preliminary approval order sends a positive initial message; this agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form. We remain hopeful that the agreement will receive final approval from the court and will realize the goal of significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web."
The Open Book Alliance, led by Internet Archive's Peter Brantley and lethal Microsoft antitrust legal eagle Gary Reback (with Amazon.com, Microsoft and Yahoo as supporting cast), dismissed Chin's approval as par for the course:
"This is not a surprising development and is not any indication that the court will or will not accept the terms of Settlement 2.0. The same procedural preliminary approval was given to Settlement 1.0, and now sets up a court process that will allow those opposed to the revised settlement to let their objections known to the court."
Settlement 1.0 was filed in October 2008 to organize the world's out-of-print books and sell access to them online. Settlement 2.0 has been reworked to limit Google Book Search to include works registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or published in the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada.
The amended settlement also requires the Book Rights Registry--the group appointed to distribute digital book sales to Google, authors and publishers--to have a court-approved trustee to represent rights holders for orphaned works and license their works to third parties.
Chin also set a date for the final hearing on the parties' settlement proposal: Feb. 18, 2010. Opponents and proponents of the deal will be able to file notices with the court between Dec. 14 of this year and Jan. 28.
The Department of Justice, which urged Chin to reject the settlement because it would violate class action, copyright and antitrust law, has until Feb. 4 to discuss the deal with the court.
My view is that the DOJ will disapprove of this revision, too, which would likely alter Chin's view.
While Google, authors and publishers made many changes and concessions, early reports are that they don't seem to have adequately addressed the DOJ's concerns that the deal will give Google too much control over orphaned works--even though Google has offered to let rivals take them from Google's repository and resell them.
If the DOJ requests more changes, they would likely be of the sort that would be unsatisfactory to Google, which has its own stubborn ideas of how to do things. Larry and Sergey are right; anyone who disagrees is wrong.
Frankly, the OBA won't be happy until Google goes away. The group doesn't want Google presiding over the world's books by itself.
They'd rather wait for some nonpartisan group to preside over such an undertaking. The Internet Archive has been toiling away at this, but hasn't gotten as far as Google, which has indexed something like 12 million books to date.
Read what third-party pundits are saying about the revised Google Book Search deal here.
So much scorn for Google, and it can only end badly if Google continues along this course.
With each court proceeding, the rhetoric will be ratcheted up; the idea that Google is a benevolent search engine trying to organize the world's information online will continue to morph into the notion that Google is a greedy Microsoftian company that wants to control the world's data.
At one point will the company just say enough is enough, we've got to worry about getting Chrome Operating System to the market next year?