Google found opposition to its Google Book Search from yet another quarter on May 4: Librarians arguing that the search-engine giant could potentially monopolize the digital-book world and violate readers’ privacy rights.
The American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association of Libraries voiced their concerns in a court filing, asking for "vigorous oversight" to a settlement reached between Google, the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers over digital book rights.
"The Library Associations do not oppose approval of the Settlement," reads the filing. "However, the digital library enabled by the Settlement will be under the control of Google and the Book Rights Registry. Moreover, the cost of creating such a library and Google’s significant lead time advantage suggest that no other entity will create a competing digital library for the foreseeable future."
The librarians’ associations see this as leading to possible privacy-rights concerns.
"The Settlement could compromise fundamental library values such as equity of access to information, patron privacy, and intellectual freedom," the filing adds. "In order to mitigate the possible negative effects the Settlement may have on libraries and the public at large, the Library Associations request that this court vigorously exercise its jurisdiction over the interpretation and implementation of the Settlement."
In April 2009, Google was reportedly questioned by the U.S. Justice Department over whether plans to digitize the world’s books into an online database represented a potential antitrust violation. Google chose to not comment at the time about any potential discussions.
At the heart of contention is a clause within the settlement that guarantees Google equal terms as any future competitor in discussions with the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers over the rights to digitize books. The Justice Department reportedly was examining whether such a clause represented a potential antitrust case.
However, questions into potential antitrust would not automatically lead to such a case, and the Justice Department has released no statements over the matter.
In early April 2009, a nonprofit watchdog group, Consumer Watchdog, had called upon the Justice Department to examine the ramifications of Google’s plan to scan so-called "orphan books," which are volumes still under copyright but whose rights-holders cannot be found, into its growing library of digital text.
An advocate for the group argued in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that such a deal would need to be reviewed to ensure that it had sufficient consumer protections.
Competition in the digital-books arena has heated up in 2009 as various groups have entered the space. Among them was Amazon, which in February 2009 rolled out its Kindle 2 electronic reader device and a 245,000 volume library. The next month, Google and Sony announced that the former’s public-domain eBooks would be available for the Sony Reader, raising the total number of books available for that device to 600,000.
Pundits have cited Google’s settlement as having the potential to harm future competitors such as Microsoft. However, Microsoft shut down its Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects, with their 750,000 digitized books and 80 million journal articles, in May 2008, most likely due to costs.