Google’s proposed book settlement with book authors and publishers, allowing the company to digitize and sell millions of books, makes a "mockery" of copyright protections in the U.S. Constitution, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office said Thursday.
The Google book settlement, the subject of a court hearing next
month, allows Google to scan out-of-print books without permission from
copyright owners, creating a sort of compulsory license, said Marybeth Peters,
register of copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office. The settlement
"allows Google to continue to scan millions of books into the future
and permits Google to engage in a number of activities… that are
indisputably acts of copyright infringement," Peters told the U.S.
House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
The settlement seeks to circumvent "full public debate" and Congress’ authority to change copyright law by allowing Google new rights for digital books, she added.
"The settlement would alter the landscape of copyright law, for
millions and millions of rights holders of out-of-print books," Peters
said. "It would flip copyright on its head by allowing Google to engage
in extensive new uses without the consent of the copyright owner — in
my view, making a mockery of Article One of the Constitution, that anticipates that authors shall be granted exclusive rights."
A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Oct. 7 in the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York. In October, after
three years of negotiations, Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers announced a settlement of lawsuits filed against Google after it began scanning books without copyright owners’ permission.
Google has scanned about 10 million books and has begun offering access to books with its Google Books product.
Representatives of Google, the Authors Guild and the National Federation of the Blind defended the book deal, saying it will give the public access to
millions of out-of-print and so-called orphaned books. Orphaned books
are those for which no one claims copyright, and the settlement sets up
an independent book registry that will seek to find the owners of
Blind people will gain access to digitized versions of books, which
can be run through text-to-speech software, advocates said.
Disadvantaged students across the U.S. will have access to books now
only available in the world’s greatest libraries, added David Balto, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former antitrust attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Lawmakers generally praised the settlement. The settlement
represents "one of the most innovative developments" since the printing press, said Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the committee.
But critics said the settlement gives Google an unfair advantage by
allowing it blanket access to most books. The settlement rewards Google
for scanning first without asking authors and publishers for
permission, said Paul Misener, vice president of global policy at Amazon.com.
Amazon has scanned about 3 million books, Misener said. "The
difference is, and probably the only significant difference between
their book-scanning project and ours, is we first sought permission
from the rights holders," he said. "We went to the rights holders, and one by one, negotiated deals… to be allowed, legally, to scan these
The settlement releases Google from liability for any past and
future copyright infringement, giving the company a huge advantage over
competitors, Misener said.
The settlement would give Google an "unlawful and inappropriate"
monopoly and strips away the rights of copyright holders worldwide,
added John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog.
"The deal simply furthers the relatively narrow agenda of Google, the
Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers," he said.
But David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, told lawmakers that none of the benefits negotiated in the settlement are exclusive to Google. Any other company can negotiate the same deal, he said.
Drummond also told the committee that Google will expand retailer
access to books scanned and sold by the company. Google has already
committed to allow retailers access to sell in-print books scanned by
Google, but on Wednesday, he announced that Google would expand that
program to out-of-print books covered by the settlement. Amazon.com and
other retailers will be able to sell those books and get part of
Google’s revenue share, he said.
"We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is," Drummond said.
"We believe strongly in an open and competitive market for digital
books. Google will host the digital books online, and retailers such as
Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore will be able to sell
access to users on any Internet-connected device they choose."