The Justice Department weighed in on Google’s plan
to create the world’s largest digital library and bookstore late
Friday, telling a New York federal court that it should press for
changes to a pending $125 million deal in a class-action lawsuit
involving the Internet giant, authors and publishers. The government
said it has concerns about the arrangement, which stemmed from a 2005
suit, but a properly structured deal could have societal benefits.
DOJ told U.S. Judge Denny Chin who has scheduled a
hearing for Oct. 7, that the parties should consider the following
changes: imposing limitations on open-ended provisions for future
licensing; eliminating potential conflicts among class members;
providing additional protections for unknown rights holders; addressing
concerns of foreign authors and publishers; eliminating joint-pricing
mechanisms among publishers and authors; and providing a way for
Google’s competitors to gain comparable access.
The U.S. government’s top copyright official warned last week that
the settlement would encroach on Congress’ role in setting copyright
policy and would let Google "engage in a number of indisputable acts of
copyright infringement." Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters testified alongside fans and foes of the proposal during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said the deal complies with copyright law and will lower barriers to entry for competitors.
Open Book Alliance, a group formed by interests who oppose the current
settlement plan, said it was pleased with DOJ’s action. Making books
searchable, readable and downloadable can unlock huge amounts of
cultural knowledge but the arrangement as drafted is the wrong way to
go about making that promise a reality, the group said. One of Google’s
chief critics, a nonprofit called Consumer Watchdog, said even if DOJ’s
concerns are addressed, the settlement should not be implemented.
Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers
issued a joint statement saying DOJ’s filing "recognizes the value the
settlement can provide by unlocking access to millions of books in the
U.S. We are considering the points raised by the department and look
forward to addressing them as the court proceedings continue."