Google takes gloves off in book deal argument

Google has responded to criticism of its plans to digitise millions of books, claiming that rivals are being short sighted.

Google takes gloves off in book deal argument

Google’s ambitious plan has been criticised by the Justice Department for violating antitrust and copyright laws.

Unsurprisingly, the search giant disagreed. “With only one significant exception, the parties sought to implement every suggestion the United States (Justice Department) made in its September submission,” the company says in its court brief.

Competitors such as Amazon raise anxieties about Google’s potential market position, but ignore their own entrenched market dominance

That exception was a decision to keep books in the project unless authors decided to opt out. Finding all the authors in question and requiring them to sign up for the program “would eviscerate the purposes of the ASA (amended settlement agreement),” the company says.

Google also argued that the deal did not harm libraries and did nothing to stop other groups seeking to digitise books.

“The ASA will enable the parties to make available to people throughout the country millions of out-of-print books. This is precisely the kind of beneficial innovation that the antitrust laws are intended to encourage, not to frustrate,” the brief notes.

“Competitors such as Amazon raise anxieties about Google’s potential market position, but ignore their own entrenched market dominance.”

Another objection has been that it is inappropriate to use the class action mechanism “to implement forward-looking business arrangements.” But, Google argues that the Justice Department did not point to any cases disapproving a settlement on those grounds.

Google further sought to downplay the economic significance of the books in the project, saying that most were either out of copyright or no longer in print. The authors of most of the books in neighborhood bookstores would withhold their books from the project.

Rivals respond

The Open Book Alliance, made up of Google’s corporate rivals, some library and writers groups and other groups digitising books, rejected Google’s arguments.

“Despite the spin from Google’s attorneys, the amended settlement will still offer the search and online advertising giant exclusive access to books it has illegally scanned to the detriment of consumers, authors and competition,” the group says.

US District Judge Denny Chin, who must approve the class action suit for it to go into effect, has scheduled a hearing on the settlement for 18 February.

The agreement is designed to settle a 2005 class action lawsuit filed against Google by authors and publishers who had accused the search engine giant of copyright infringement for scanning collections of books from four universities and the New York Public Library.

The Justice Department recommended in September that the agreement be rejected.

Faced with this and other opposition, Google and a group of authors and publishers made a series of changes to the deal in November that has failed to stem criticism of it.

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