Google to Create World’s Largest Searchable Archive of Arguments Against Google Books
Add another name to the list of opponents of the Google Book Search Settlement: Marybeth Peters, U.S. Register of Copyrights. In testimony before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Thursday, Peters tarred the deal as “fundamentally at odds with the law” and villainized Google, saying the company is making a “mockery” of the copyright protections in the U.S. Constitution.
“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.”
The settlement, as Peters sees it, will allow Google (GOOG) to profit from the work of others without prior consent. “It could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come,” she said. “In essence, the proposed settlement would give Google a license to infringe first and ask questions later, under the imprimatur of the court.”
One of the more blistering attacks on the deal to date, especially given its source: The nation’s top copyright official. But Google nevertheless dismissed it as unfounded: “We think the settlement is legal, and we think it is structured well within the guidelines of what you can do in a class action settlement,” David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said during the hearing. “It certainly is not usurping Congress’s authority to do whatever it wants.”
A typically arrogant response from Google, though the company does appear to be conceding a bit of ground in the face of widening opposition to the deal. Responding to Peters’s criticism and claims that the deal will essentially grant Google a de facto monopoly over out-of-print books, Drummond said the company plans to make those works available to any book retailer.
“For the out-of-print books being made available through the Google Books settlement, we will let any book retailer sell access to those books,” Drummond told the committee. “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.”
Sadly for Google, that conciliatory gesture did not go over well with critics of the deal. “The Internet has never been about intermediation,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said of the company’s offer. “We are happy to work with rights holders without anyone else’s help.”
The Internet Archive’s Peter Brantley was even more disdainful. “I fail to see what’s really new here,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s like Macy’s telling Sears, ‘You can sell Macy’s clothing.’ There’s no fundamental change of the conditions under which Macy’s acquires those clothes. Google remains in control.”