Government Demands Rewrite Of Google Books Deal

Dennis Faas's picture

The U.S. Justice Department says it has legal concerns over a proposed deal between Google and American book authors and publishers. While not a killer blow to the deal, the comments significantly decrease the likelihood that it will ever receive court approval.

The deal would settle a long-running case in which the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google for scanning books without permission. Pages from these books then appeared as results in the Google Books search service.

The proposed settlement would include setting up a registry of copyrighted books, allowing Google to include copyrighted books in its search results (unless authors or publishers opted out), and giving publishers the opportunity to have electronic editions of their titles sold by Google.

Orphan Controversy

The most controversial aspect of the deal: Google being given the rights to carry orphan titles, or those which are still in copyright but where the author and publisher are either unknown or impossible to contact. That's so far attracted criticism from individual U.S. states,, the European Union and several foreign governments.

It's also been condemned by the U.S. Copyright Office, which says giving Google such rights would effectively rewrite copyright laws without the necessary Congressional approval. (Source:

The court considering the settlement plans to hold a public hearing on October 7th, 2009. The Justice Department has now submitted written evidence to the court questioning the legality of the settlement.

Deal Could Undermine Congress

Officials at the department say they can see the advantages of setting up the copyright registry, which would in principle act independently of Google. However, they say this type of organization should be set up through the passing of a new law, not a court ruling. (Source:

The department also raised their concerns that the registry would effectively have complete control over how much to charge for access to the electronic books. That, it seems, could potentially breach antitrust regulations.

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