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Justice Dept. Opens Antitrust Inquiry Into Google Books Deal
Brett_Tabke




msg:3902894
 12:52 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

nytimes story [nytimes.com] (login required)

The Justice Department has begun an inquiry into the antitrust implications of Google's settlement with authors and publishers over its Google Book Search service, two people briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

 

signor_john




msg:3902899
 1:09 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

It seems to me that the antitrust implications have--or should have--as much to do with the role of the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers as they do with whether Google would profit from the settlement. In theory, individual authors can opt out of the settlement, but in practice, how many can afford to do that when the Guild (which represents authors) and the AAP (which represents publishers) are in cahoots?

willybfriendly




msg:3902968
 5:45 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

In its request to intervene, the [Internet] Archive’s lawyers said: "[T]he proposed Settlement Agreement . . . effectively limits the liability for the identified uses of orphan works of one party alone, Google Inc., and provides for a Books Rights Registry, the interests of which are represented solely by identified rightsholders, to negotiate their exploitation...[Others] Unlike Google...could face potentially significant statutory damages for their use of orphan works" (ZDNet [government.zdnet.com])

So, at least one group is arguing that if things are loosened up for orphan works, then it should be opened for all and not just the big G.

Further, the terms of the deal don't look particularly favorable for the authors. Per AP, rights holders of books already scanned would receive a $60 payment. I am not clear if there are residuals involved for those, but the settlement does call for G to get 37% of all future revenue.

Your arguments against the Publishers Guild are a real time warp. The first use of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was an attempt to break unions, the argument being that workers had no right to band together to protect their collective interests against the mega-corporations of the day.

The fact is, no individual author or publisher has the resources to take on a giant like Google. It is only together that they have any chance of protecting their collective interests, which of course is why the Publishers Guild was formed in the first place.

I, for one, take it as a very positive sign that G's rampant abuse of copyrighted works is receiving more attention of late, and that the issue is being monitored by the government now. Perhaps the era of cowboy capitalism, and its abuses, is coming to a close? (Although "Atlas Shrugged" is being revived from the dead I hear:()

[edited by: bakedjake at 6:41 pm (utc) on April 29, 2009]

poppyrich




msg:3902983
 6:34 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

I hope more comes out of this than just scrutiny. I have been reading a lot about copyright law and the more I read, the angrier I get. I have two patents, I do a considerable amount of writing, and I'm certainly not in favor of - as some seem to be - doing away with intellectual property. But the Internet has up-ended everything and the law has not caught up. Public awareness has not caught up.

And now, on top of it all, because of the lengthening of the copyright term to the life of the author plus 70 years, Google's venture with a scanner and a library card has turned them into the gatekeeper for 95% of the culture of the 20th century.
This is great, just great.

2clean




msg:3903031
 8:27 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

There is always a lag between policy and law, and the public's ability to assimilate and rattify that in their conscioussness. It's why you hear those crazy cases such as children divorcing their parents.

If you ever wanted to have a definition of how different the internet is from traditional business, you'd just have to ask whether an offline business can make available so much copyrighted material and not be sued to bancruptcy.

nealrodriguez




msg:3903245
 2:29 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

But critics say that Google alone would have a license that covers millions of so-called orphan books, whose authors cannot be found or whose rights holders are unknown. Some librarians fear that with no competition, Google will be free to raise prices for access to the collection.

i am thinking the author Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers will feel they will be cut out of the deal, as they may not have the resources to get paid from google open access. that's the only reason they would care about books with unknown authors and rights holders.

Google, as well as the authors and publishers, have defended the settlement, saying it will bring benefits to authors, publishers and the public. They say it will renew access to millions of out-of-print books.

i think it opens an option to breathe life into forgotten books that can possibly compete for exposure among all the content available online.

Hugene




msg:3903280
 3:13 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

I've been reading a lot on this, and I still don't get where the problem is. Why was there no outcry on Amazon, which is a monopoly in e-commerce of books?

And the "orphan" books problem is baffling me: currently, orphan books are free to download on Google Books, so why are libraries afraid of "raised prices for the collection"? Orphan books should be free for download and reproduce by whomever no? How is this settlement changing this?

bakedjake




msg:3903288
 3:26 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Why was there no outcry on Amazon, which is a monopoly in e-commerce of books?

Just a guess, but perhaps Amazon's MO of trying to sell books (which presumably makes money for the author) is a bit different than Google's MO of trying to sell advertising on top of content (which presumably makes no money for the author)?

I am speaking from a position of ignorance, but as an ignorant person w/r/t to these discussions, that seems to be to be the difference in my mind.

tangor




msg:3903292
 3:35 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google is looking to auction off the orphaned works to publishers... in effect becoming the source for those works. Google would also have sole authority of whether an orphaned work is deemed appropriate for their electronic library... and if not the work disappears and will not become available until the copyright passes to public domain... decades from now. There's a lot more going on than appears on the surface. This agreement is reportedly 300 pages long. Need to get a copy and read it for myself.

signor_john




msg:3903449
 6:27 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

your arguments against the Publishers Guild are a real time warp.

I wasn't talking about a "Publishers Guild" (something that doesn't exist, as far as I know). I was talking about two separate organizations that serve different constituencies: the Authors Guild (which represents authors) and the American Association of Publishers (which represents publishers). Is it healthy for two dominant industry organizations that are natural rivals to make deals behind closed doors with any potential distributor, whether it's Google, Yahoo, or John Doe? That's the issue I was raising. Sometimes people need to put their obsession with Google in standby mode and think about the larger issues.

Further, the terms of the deal don't look particularly favorable for the authors.

Thanks for proving my point. :-)

[edited by: bakedjake at 6:41 pm (utc) on April 29, 2009]

hutcheson




msg:3903491
 6:59 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

>Why was there no outcry on Amazon, which is a monopoly in e-commerce of books?

No guess needed here. Amazon simply isn't a monopoly on e-commerce. They aren't even a monopoly on mail-order-sales-via-the-web. (I have had no trouble at all buying books, CDs, DVDs from BarnesandNoble.com, abebooks.com, ebay.com, cbd.com, or the websites of specific books-and-mortar stores or even single authors.) I don't know, and it doesn't matter, how large a share Amazon has: there is no barrier to anyone opening a website to sell books, or anyone frequenting that website to buy them.

Google is asking for something slightly different: a so-far-unique ability to publish (and sell) books, in the absence of the copyright holder. This "third party" (the AG or AAP) is setting the terms. The argument is being made that there will be some kind of barrier to other people making the same kind of arrangement.

I'm not sure I BELIEVE that argument....but there is claimed to be a difference between Amazon's deal with HarperCollins (A. buys books at wholesale from HC., and anyone else can buy the same books from the same place at more-or-less the same cost, since HC. was the one who set the price schedule.)

hutcheson




msg:3903517
 7:33 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

>And the "orphan" books problem is baffling me: currently, orphan books are free to download on Google Books ...

Ah, but they AREN'T. That's the problem. Google has scanned the books. You can SEARCH the books on Google. But Google cannot, at this point, "distribute" the entire text (well, image) of the book to you.

>so why are libraries afraid of "raised prices for the collection"?

Here I'd guess, fear of the unknown.

>Orphan books should be free for download and reproduce by whomever no?

That's an ethical/political question. The European feudal/fascist position is that they should not--only the privileged few people who are lucky enough to have the right ancestor should have that right (even if they don't know about it, and wouldn't care about it if they did.) The European liberal/libertarian position, also enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, is that copyright exists for the good of the public, and therefore no right can be reserved unless it provides, after a limited time, to increase of material in the public domain ("progress in the arts and sciences").

That's why the Orphan Works issue is so big with librarians in the U.S. (including the Library of Congress) -- these "exclusive but abandoned copyrights" are not providing benefit to ANYONE--not the creators or their heirs, not the publishers (not that that matters or should matter), and especially not the public (who are in fact being harmed by their freedom being unconstitutionally infringed--they are being legally restrained from non-harmful actions otherwise in their power.)

>How is this settlement changing this?

This settlement is making it possible for Google to publish orphaned works in two ways, (1) selling an electronic copy via e-commerce, and (2) enabling a dead-tree-pulp-processor to print one-off copies of otherwise-out-of-print books.

In the former case, Google makes money. In the latter case, Google and the printer make money. In both cases, the reader presumably benefits in some way, or he wouldn't be spending the money.

But in neither case does the AUTHOR make money DIRECTLY. (Well, he doesn't LOSE anything, because he sure wasn't getting royalties before. And he may gain publicity, which is potentially worth a lot--either in reputation for other books, or in possible mass reprints for this book.)

This deal doesn't JUST affect orphan works. It's actually about OUT-OF-PRINT works, not all of which are orphaned. But it affects orphaned works in at least these ways: (1) puts truly orphaned works back "in print", and (2) provides a motive and a means for "runaways"--books that aren't orphaned, but whose parents have forgotten about them--to be brought home and re-adapted, (3) provides a way to provide notice that a work is BEING orphaned deliberately (because the author cares more about promoting his work than about the amount of money he's likely to get by suppressing it.)

hutcheson




msg:3903529
 7:47 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

>Google would also have sole authority of whether an orphaned work is deemed appropriate for their electronic library.

There are issues with the agreement, but this isn't an issue, it's just a paranoid fantasy...Sergei wandering down the stacks of the Miskatonic University HPL Memorial Library muttering maniacally, "scan this one ... skip that one ... scan these two -- no, just this one, skip the next three..." That ain't happening, and ain't gonna happen in ANY universe, let alone this one.

What does happen is, Google sends a scanner to Miskatonic U., and hires people to go down the stacks scanning pretty much everything--apparently including duplicates of previously scanned books. Stuff that's obviously public-domain gets listed as "full-view", and everything else gets scanned and indexed--but only limited views are available.

It's the LIBRARIES deciding what books get preserved. Now that may still be a concern to you--it's certainly a big concern for me, because I've bought too many ex-library books from the used book market, and I KNOW what books the libraries are culling. But Google is not making matters worse, because it's preserving more than any single library has chosen to preserve.

tangor




msg:3903544
 8:11 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Given: Google scans everything.
Given: Google decides what is displayed.
Given: If they don't display it... won't appear until item rolls into PD.

Google already has guidelines to "acceptable" content and there's a sure bet that some part of what they are scanning will not be "acceptable." But, since they are the scanners (and custodians of content) they can prevent others from using that unacceptable content. Not my opinion though I agree with it... More info can be found via Google search for "orphan works +lawyer" (no quotes)

hutcheson




msg:3903581
 9:05 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

>they can prevent others from using that unacceptable content.

But the point is, this agreement doesn't stop anyone else from doing anything they can already do.

It may keep someone else from doing tomorrow what nobody, not even Google, can do today.

But that isn't an argument against this agreement, it's an argument in favor of mandatory licenses for all. Which, so far as I can tell, "all" can "each" attempt to negotiate...just like Google is doing now.

Now, I'm not the only person who would like to see this agreement changed, to allow other entities to buy into the Google settlement, and scan their own "orphan"/"OOP" collections.

But there's a real social benefit to letting SOMEONE (such as Google) try a pilot project, to see how it works for a few years, before imposing a congressional mandate (like we radio broadcasting of music).

Maybe someone else will come up with a different way of slicing the pie--not "better" or "worse" than Google's dicing, just "different"--and Congress will have 2 or 3 different models for mandatory licensing. Maybe not, but the congresscritters in their infinite wisdom just decide to tamper with the Google agreement.

There are all sorts of futures possible. The one feature common to them all is: I, as a reader, will be able to purchase the right to read books I could not otherwise have found. That is an unqualified good thing.

For the author's perspective, I defer to people who have written far more than any of us (and with far more critical acclaim!) -- Eric Flint at Baen Books, baen.com/library/defaultTitles.htm .

tangor




msg:3903582
 9:10 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

But the point is, this agreement doesn't stop anyone else from doing anything they can already do.

But it does. Judge has already denied internet archive from benefiting from the agreement (they have scanned books, too). I have books on my website. All are PD or original, but I can't get a piece of that publisher agreement either.

Google is about to change the landscape of publishing (digital especially) for EVERYONE if this is not closely examined.

hutcheson




msg:3903605
 10:05 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

>Judge has already denied internet archive from benefiting from the agreement (they have scanned books, too).

Watch the nuances here. (1) The judge hasn't denied the IA the right to benefit from the agreement. It's been denied the right to intervene in the case--not the same thing at all. At this point, true, the agreement does not give the IA any NEW rights. (And as an IA contributor, I'd certainly like to see us get some new rights!) But this settlement doesn't take any of my rights AWAY.

Nobody has denied the IA, or you or I as individuals, the right to try to negotiate the same kind of agreement--and it may be easier for them (us!) to succeed, if Google has blazed the way.

I partly agree with you: I'd very much like to see this settlement explicitly allow other entities to piggyback on (or buy into) the Google agreement. I think such a clause would go far towards eliminating any reasonable concerns about monopolization of culture--as well as encouraging other people to help preserve culture.

hutcheson




msg:3903611
 10:30 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Off-topic: I read hundreds of forum posts every year, many of them boasting about the qualities of the poster's website: maybe once a year, something is said about a website that leads me to think, "That website OUGHT to be in the ODP NOW!"

Usually, the site is already listed. Tangor, yours was the post for this year (and, sure enough, the site was already listed...so all I did was add a few words to the description. The site's design doesn't degrade gracefully for large font sizes, but content is king!)

But I can safely say this: you're out of luck. The Burroughs estate would opt out of this agreement in a heartbeat, if they haven't already--and most of his work is still at least sporadically still in print. So this agreement wouldn't help you. Your only hope is to move to Canada, where ERB has been dead over 50 years.

(P.S. and they'd probably hassle you even in Canada, although when push came to shoving lawyers around in front of a Canadian judge they'd have to back down.)

tangor




msg:3903657
 11:37 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

@hutcheson ... perhaps "benefiting" was a poor choice of words, but you got my drift... the drift I hope all eyes will take when viewing this upcoming settlement. In the land down under ERB is PD (all books) so I might get me a vegamite sandwich. :) And thanks for the kind words re: site.

I'm not looking to make a buck. What I am concerned with is the by-blow of the orphaned works which have been rolled up in the settlement, and not for the same reasons others might think though I agree with many of the positions which have been raised. Nor am I overly afraid of Google getting all the goodies, though I am leary of them cornering the market on digital literature. There's a small step between here we are and there we went.

signor_john




msg:3904158
 4:40 pm on Apr 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Nor am I overly afraid of Google getting all the goodies, though I am leary of them cornering the market on digital literature.

I don't think there's any danger of that. The settlement is about orphaned works, not digital literature in general.

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