U.S. Copyright Office Opposes Massive Google Book Scanning Deal

September 10, 2009

Google Inc.’s plan to digitize millions of books as part of a class action settlement wrongly creates a virtually compulsory license for books, the U.S. register of copyrights said Thursday.

In a hearing called to discuss a 2008 settlement between the Authors Guild and Google to allow Google to digitize entire libraries, Marybeth Peters said that the Copyright Office originally viewed the agreement as positive but soon shifted its view because the class action settlement covered future behavior instead of just redressing past actions.

“The settlement would alter the landscape of copyright law,” she told the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Peters objected to the settlement on the grounds that the class would affect authors in this country and overseas whose works are in copyright.

“The settlement would bind authors, publishers, their heirs and successors to these rules, even though Google has not yet scanned and may never scan their works,” Peters said in her written testimony.

Peters argued that Google would inappropriately be allowed to put out-of-print books on Google Books without seeking permission from the rights holders.

For Google to show entire books without permission is “indisputably an act of copyright infringement,” she said.

Peters also argued that non-U.S. authors were included in the class, sometimes because one copy of a book was in a research library. Germany and France oppose the proposed settlement.

In his testimony, Google’s top legal officer David Drummond said Google was “fully compliant with copyright law,” and access to online books could revolutionize research for students who live far from major libraries or have physical disabilities.

Google’s plan to scan entire research libraries prompted a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild, accusing Google of copyright infringement. A proposed settlement to resolve the lawsuit will be discussed on Oct. 7 in Manhattan federal court.

Rival companies, privacy advocates and some libraries and small publishers, have accused Google of violating antitrust law to dominate the digital book market. The Justice Department is looking into their concerns.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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