Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has joined the ranks of organizations expressing concern about the proposed Google Book Search settlement.
The group criticizes the settlement on the grounds that it would give Google "an effective monopoly over digitized books" and is asking the Department of Justice to intervene.
"Because the settlement was negotiated between the parties in a class action suit, there has been little opportunity to represent the interests of consumers," the group said in a letter to the Attorney General dated last week.
U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin in New York is currently reviewing the settlement. If it is approved, the agreement would resolve a lawsuit filed against Google in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. They alleged that Google infringed copyright by digitizing books.
The agreement calls for Google to fund a new book rights registry, and allows the company to digitize books and sell downloads at prices it sets with the registry.
Consumer Watchdog flagged two areas of concern in its letter to the Justice Department. The organization says that the new registry guarantees Google "most favored nation" status, which would mean that no other future competitors get better terms than Google. "The registry would be prevented from offering more advantageous terms to, for example, Yahoo or Microsoft, even if it thought better terms would be necessary to enable either to enter into the digital books business," the letter states.
The second deals with "orphan works," or works under copyright, but whose owner isn’t known. The agreement would protect Google from copyright infringement liability for publishing those works, but Consumer Watchdog says that other companies should also receive the same protections.
Last week, Chin granted a request by New York Law School to file a friend-of-the-court brief that also addresses orphan works. The law school professor heading the effort, James Grimmelmann, said the deal presents antitrust issues because it would result in Google becoming the only company able to safely publish orphan works.
A Google spokesperson said last week that the settlement "stands to expand access to millions of books in the U.S."