US judge rejects Google’s settlement with publishers

Says copyright, antitrust issues are not yet solved

By Larry Numeister
Associated Press / March 23, 2011

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NEW YORK — A judge rejected a deal yesterday between Google and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing antitrust concerns and the need for Congress’s involvement while acknowledging the potential benefit of putting literature in front of the masses.

US Circuit Judge Denny Chin said the creation of a universal library would “simply go too far,’’ and he was troubled by differences between Google’s views and those of everyone affected by the settlement. Still, he left the door open for a deal, noting that many objectors would drop their complaints if Google Inc., the Internet search leader, lets book owners choose to join the library, rather than force them to opt out.

The settlement proposal drew hundreds of objections from Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents, and foreign governments. Google already has scanned more than 15 million books for the project.

Google’s managing counsel, Hilary Ware, said the company was considering its options and would “continue to work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online’’ through Google Books, a searchable index, and Google eBooks, which allows readers to access books wirelessly on digital devices.

The judge said the settlement with US authors and publishers would “grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners.’’ He was particularly critical of the access Google would have to so-called orphan works — out-of-print books whose writers could not be located — saying the deal would give it “a de facto monopoly over unclaimed works.’’

That was one of the fears raised in 2009 by the Department of Justice when it concluded the agreement probably violated antitrust law and could drive up prices for consumers.

The judge said Congress should ultimately decide who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books.

He called it significant that foreign authors, publishers, and nations say the agreement violates international law.

The president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow, said it plans to talk with publishers and Google “with the hope that we can arrive at a settlement within the court’s parameters.’’ He said the online library is “an idea whose time has come.’’

“Readers want access to these unavailable works, and authors need every market they can get,’’ he said.

Google rivals Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., and Inc. called the ruling “a victory for the public interest.’’

The case developed after Google in 2004 agreed with research libraries to digitally copy books in their collections. The authors and publishers sought financial damages and a court order to block the copying when they sued Google in 2005.