Federal judge rejects plans for Google digital library

The deal between Google, authors, and publishers gives Google too much control over out-of-print works, the judge said.

A federal judge on March 22 rejected a deal between internet search leader Google Inc. and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing antitrust concerns and the need for involvement from Congress while acknowledging the potential benefit of putting literature in front of the masses.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan said the creation of a universal digital library would “simply go too far,” and he was troubled by the differences between Google’s views and those of everyone affected by the settlement. Still, he left the door open for an eventual deal, noting that many objectors would drop their complaints if Mountain View, Calif.-based Google set it up so book owners would choose to join the library rather than being required to quit it.

The judge acknowledged in his decision that there are many benefits to Google’s project, including that libraries, schools, researchers, and disadvantaged populations would gain access to far more books; that authors and publishers would find new audiences and new sources of income; and that older books—particularly those out of print—would be preserved and given new life.

The $125 million settlement had drawn hundreds of objections from Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents, and even foreign governments. Google already has scanned more than 15 million books for the project.

Google’s managing counsel, Hilary Ware, called the decision disappointing and said the company was considering its options.

“Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the U.S. today,” Ware said in a statement.

She said that, regardless of the outcome, Google would “continue to work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online” through Google Books, a searchable index of literary works, and Google eBooks, which allows readers to access books wirelessly on digital devices.

The judge said the settlement that the company had reached with U.S. 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 gave the company “a de facto monopoly over unclaimed works.”

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